Posts Tagged ‘ocean’

Spanish Influence? Who’da Thunk It!

East Coasters, even those who don’t study history, know of Britain’s role in American history, for it’s glaringly obvious. We also have an idea of France’s role in the Revolution, the settling of New Orleans, and the Lousiana Purchase. We also know a lot about European immigrants, and, of course, the impressment of Africans in the days of the colonies.

Statue of Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo courtesy of WikipediaWe never think about Spain. Well, maybe Floridians do, but the rest of us are clueless.

Californians, on the other hand, know full well about Spain’s role. Their whole countryside is full of it, from  the El Dorado National Forest down to the Cabrillo National Monument near San Diego. Spain had a huge role in the exploration and settling of the west coast of the continent, and, when you consider Mexico, Spain had a role in American history from the missions of San Antonio all the way to the the founding of San Francisco.

Cabrillo was the first west coast NPS site I visited, and the first one to plant the idea of Spanish influence in America in me. I happened to be in San Diego for a conference, and took the opportunity to stop by Cabrillo. It’s located on the Point Loma peninsula just past the naval reservation. The site honors Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo, a 16th century Spanish explorer who led one of the first expeditions up the western coast of North America. Sadly, he died during his explorations, but his trip did lead to further trips by other explorers, eventually leading to the settlement of the coastline by conquistadors and clergy (for good or for evil, you decide — my own opinions on the matter will get their due in a later post).

Cabrillo is a small site. There’s a small museum at the visitor’s center; the Old Point Loma Lighthouse; remnants of World War II coastal defenses; and a statue of Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo. The highlight of the site, by far, are the excellent views of the Pacific Ocean, the bay, and San Diego itself. I hear you can see whales migrating past the monument in January, and I know you can watch the seals have a conversation with a foghorn (you’ve gotta be there to know what I’m talking about).

On a side note, I have to give props to San Diego. I was only there for about a week, most of the time in conferences, but I liked what I saw. The historic district has some great restaurants, and the San Diego Zoo is an absolute must see. I don’t particularly like zoos, they’re usually like “animal abuse on display”, most disturbing. But the SDZ does a good job. The animals look healthy & happy, and the staff truly seems to care about them. Forget the pandas, the line’s too long. Check out the rain forest aviary & the wild cats. 8)

Keep your eye out for conventions in San Diego, and convince your boss you absolutely have to attend one. 🙂

Cabrillo Tidal Pool courtesy of Wikipedia

[Sorry, I didn’t own a digital camera when I visited Cabrillo. Photos shamelessly glommed from Wikipedia. However, here’s a great blog entry on Cabrillo with some fantastic photos. Sites like this make me want to work on my photography skills all the harder.]


Cabrillo National Monument

San Diego Zoo

Rock Bottom Brewery (I normally don’t care for chain brewpubs, but Rock Bottom has really good beer & food. The San Diego Rock Bottom is the first one I ever went to, hence the link here).

Google map to Cabrillo

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Love the Ocean … Hate Love the Beach

I love the ocean. I just love the vastness of it all (similar to my love of the Great Plains). I love the power of it, how it carves and weathers the rock and land around it. I love how it can create storms of such immensity men cower in fear, and how it also provides a tremendous bounty for mankind to eat. I love how it’s the giver of life, for we all can trace our roots back to its nutrient-rich waters. I love the serenity of it, how the waves lap the shores in a soothing, rhythmic, sexual fashion. The sea caresses the land, then, during moments of great power, parts the shoals and penetrates inward, over and over and over and …

Um, wait, where was I? Oh yes …

Ocean City T-Shirts — © 2008 America In ContextI love the ocean, but I hate the beach. I really can’t stand it, and it’s not just because I’m a fair-skinned freak who fries easily. It’s also not because it’s freakin’ hot (but that doesn’t help). I hate the beach because most of them are crowded, and filthy, and full of miscreants. Here’s a question: why do Goths hang out at the beach, going out of their way to alienate people? Aren’t they pretending to be vampires or something? Can’t they hang out in caves? Why do they hang out at the beach?

For that matter, why do bikers in full leather hang out at the beach? Don’t they cook in their black outfits? I don’t think that percolating in one’s own filth in a black leather suit is a great idea. And why do people squeeze into bathing suits against all the rules of physics to lay in the sun and broil themselves? Is the baked-potato look really that fashionable? Yeah, sure, there’s occasional eye candy at the beach, but for every hot babe, there are a dozen drunken louts frying their brain cells while aggravating all who pass. Bah!

Beaches are a pain to get to, impossible to park at, and surrounded by the sleaziest bars, restaurants, and crip-crap shops imaginable. Try to get a decent burger, or a good beer, or anything else, on a beach strip. Just ain’t gonna happen, not at a good price, anyway. And I dare you to walk across a beach without stepping on a cigarette butt … it’s mathematically impossible, I’m sure Stephen Hawking would agree.

Or, if you do find a beautiful beach, odds are it’s blockaded by tony, extravagant homes, owned by slimewads who think their money puts their beach rights over everyone else’s (well la dee dah). Why don’t the hurricanes target those dipweeds and leave the poor folks alone … if they want the beach to themselves, they can have the ruddy cyclones to themselves, too.

Red Wing — © 2008 America In ContextI originally planned to avoid all the National Seashores under the National Park System because of my natural antipathy to beaches. I figured the NPS just protected the little sliver of land between ocean and the t-shirt shop, and the rest was up for grabs by Goths and snobs. Who needs that?

Assateague Island changed my mind.

Assateague Island is a barrier island south of Ocean City, Maryland. It has a strip of beautiful, pristine beach that stretches for miles and miles. It’s totally clean, almost totally natural, and (at least when I was there) unencumbered by throngs of beach-goers. Yes, there are people, but on the day I went, I walked down two miles of gorgeous beachfront, just me and the sea and the birds. It was a gorgeous day, sunny yet temperate, breezy yet quiet. Yes, there were a few people, but they kept to themselves, and I to myself, all of us thoroughly enjoying one of the most spectacular stretches of land on the East Coast.

Assateague is a place where you can absolutely just stand in one spot, and stare out at the ocean, and wonder just what the heck is over that horizon. Looking back, I’m not even sure if I saw any shipping. I may be romantizing the island too much, but seriously, I can’t recall seeing anything: no freighters, no jet-skis, no parasailers, nothing. Nothing but birds, and seashells, and sand dollars, and that’s it. No industrial sounds, either. No horns, no ghetto blasters, nothing but wind and waves and that’s it.

Just Me and the Birds — © 2008 America In Context

The other side of Assateague is bounded by the Chincoteague Bay. Although the western side does have its share of boat docks and marinas, the eastern side, against the island, is still pristine and beautiful. Rent a kayak and spend an hour or two paddling around all the inlets and coves, it’s a great way to spend an afternoon. It was past bird-migration time when I was there, but there were still plenty of egrets, pelicans, and storks to see.

Of course, Assateague is most famous for its wild horses. Apparently, a couple of centuries ago, local farmers abandoned their horses on the island (perhaps in an early tax evasion scheme), and they thrived and bred on the island (smaller, of course, because of Foster’s Rule). Today, descendants of these horses remain.

I wanted to find these horses and snap some pictures of them in their environment. So I beat through the brush and walked along the waterways, hoping to take some spectacular photos. Oddly, though, they were nowhere to be seen … until I stumbled across an RV campground. There they were … eating scraps left for them by campers, totally against NPS rules. Yep, even on remote, protected Assateague Island, people have to muck around with nature. People just can’t leave things be, can they? No, they have to get their perfect picture from the comfort of their folding chair, while idiots like me traipse through the woods, trying to see wildlife as nature intended.

OK, to be fair, these horses aren’t really there as nature intended. Man put the horses on the island and left them there, but still, it would be cool to see them just living on their own, instead of begging for scraps at mankind’s overladen table. I did take some pics, I had to use some clever angles and cropping to make them look “native”. Such a shame.

I guess even the pristine beaches have their share of spoilers.

Wild Ponies — © 2008 America In Context

[See more of my Assateague photos, plus a couple from other sites in the area (including Atlantic City, where I won $2K at the slots — I don’t just hang around in the woods, ya know) here.]

Sand Toad — © 2008 America In ContextLinks:

Assateague Island National Seashore

Clean Beaches Council

Google map to Assateague Island


Just for the heck of it, here’s a picture of a sand toad…

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The Beginning

Acadia National Park will always hold a soft spot in my heart. It was the first National Park I ever visited. I don’t recall if I actually vowed to take The Quest before going, but I surely made it by the time I left.

I was in my late 20’s when I visited Acadia. I remember my motivation: I had just failed miserably at yet another relationship. Depressed, frustrated, aggravated, I needed a vacation, badly.

Otter Cliff, Copyright ©2007, Troy B. ThompsonUp until that point, I always vacationed with friends in Old Orchard Beach, Maine, a beach town that’s only a notch or two above the typical, slimy, cigarette butt-infested beach town. This time, I needed to be away from friends, away from family, away from her. I needed a vacation, yes, but needed to go alone. Reaching into my Boy Scout past, I decided to go back to nature. Get into the woods, away from people, clear my head. I chose Acadia. I had to buy new hiking boots and a backpack (my prior sporting activity – bar hopping – didn’t require much in the way of special equipment). I loaded up the car and headed north.

Driving up I-95 from Massachusetts to Maine is a real butt-numbing experience, I tell you what. But as soon as I passed all the New Hampshire tolls and entered the Pine Tree State, I knew I made a great choice. Just me and my tape deck and the open road and miles and miles of pine forest. Brilliant! The next morning, after a quick stop at the store for a bag lunch and a trail map, I hit the woods.

Forest Fog, Copyright ©2007, Troy B. ThompsonIt was a damp day. Not raining, just a low fog rolling in from the Atlantic. Yet the park was positively alive, and far more fascinating, than the woods of my old stomping ground. These weren’t the tall, sturdy pines of the Berkshire hills, these were gnarled, windswept scrub pine, small trees scraping out a meager existence, anchored to the crevices of the glacier-carved rock, eking out whatever existence the sparse soil and stormy seafront could afford them. The deer and other animals were easily spotted in the woods, making their way through the fog, unafraid of the lone, soggy hiker. But the amazing thing was the lichen and moss. Yes, I said lichen and moss: I was absolutely enthralled by the simplest of life forms. There’s something in the sea air around Acadia that gives them the most amazing green color, in the dim light afforded by the fog, it seemed to cast an eerie glow over the entire area.

I hiked eleven miles that day. The very place is such a wonder: the woods, the glacier-ground hills, the erratic boulders, the calm lakes, the ocean views. Even in the fog, it was beautiful. The dampness made the forest so quiet, so peaceful, just what was needed. Busting through the low fog to reach the top of Cadillac Mountain was icing on the cake. I was a soggy mess by that time, I’m sure I looked quite the site to the clean-and-dry folks who drove to the vista point. I’m sure one of them said “what a freak”, for that’s probably what I would have said if I looked down at a sodden hiker emerging from a fog bank. I think they were the ones who missed out: it’s one thing to drive to the some overlook and sit awestruck at the magnificent views. It’s quite another to hike 11 miles, and up several hundred feet, and sit awestruck at the magnificent views. Things are more appreciated when they’re earned …

Cairn, Copyright ©2007, Troy B. Thompson

I spent another couple of days in Bar Harbor (a great little town), and visited the most excellent Lompoc Café more than once (where they serve ale made by the local Atlantic Brewing Company). But Acadia gave me something that I’ve kept ever since: it rejuvenated a boyhood fascination with the natural world.

After my visit to Acadia, I decided that I would visit every National Park site before I died. I didn’t do too well at first, largely because of financial problems (and getting sidetracked by a handful of other bad relationships). But eventually, I got on track, and been to over 100 National Park Service sites since. I still keep that tattered trail map hanging in my living room, and I’ll always hold Acadia in high regard.

Can’t say the same for most of my former girlfriends, though.

Copyright ©2007, Troy B. Thompson

[My visit to Acadia preceded the invention of amateur digital photography. All photos on this entry taken by, and used with permission of, Troy B. Thompson Photography.]


Acadia National Park



Google map to Acadia

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