The freakish ‘sheep crab’
After returning from San Francisco by train I drove after dark south to Monterey. There I was able to meet a friend’s mother the following morning (I also had a driveway to sleep in – always important!). The following morning I also received a really cool meteorite pendant. I don’t know how people can find meteors (and this came from the Congo!), but it’s neat to have something which was in outer space so recently.
This is what living sand dollars look like.
After breakfast I headed to the Monterey Bay Aquarium, supposedly the largest aquarium in the world. It’s in a really touristy area of a small city, but the aquarium itself has an impressive collection.
There are dozens of tanks of these etherial jellies
There’s a ton of exhibits featuring the usual suspects – crabs, starfish, sea cucumbers, crabs, various fish. There were a few special temporary exhibits: *two* with jellyfish, one with seahorses. I’ve seen a lot of jellyfish at aquariums, and these creatures are surprising crowd-pleasers. Although they have no active mental faculties, and thus no charisma, it’s easy to illuminate jellyfish with a blacklight and watch them elegantly float around, like a real-life screensaver. It’s a good deal for the aquarium, because these animals must be awful cheap to raise and maintain.
I loved these spotted jellyfish, which seemed to have more internal structure than the kind you normally see.
Another popular exhibit were small penguins, which waddle along, torpedo back and forth through the water, and generally act like little clowns. Similarly charismatic are sea otters, perhaps the most popular animals at the aquarium. They’re active, playful, and by nature assume adorable poses.
My favorite exhibit, though, was an opportunity to touch stingrays: their texture is very soft and quite unique, and it’s a rare thing to be able to feel these creatures.
Seals and ptarmigans, visible from viewing decks outside the aquarium.
There’s also an outside section to the aquarium, where a seal was hamming it up on a rock. It was much bigger than the rock and hardly looked comfortable, but it maintained its position and kept other seals from knocking it off. Sometimes it seemed to turn and look right at me through my telescope, with a huge grin on its face.
From the aquarium I drove east to Fresno. Surprisingly, Fresno is a city of 500 thousand people… that’s roughly the same size as Portland! I sequestered myself there in a cheap hotel for two days, catching up on things, charging all my devices, and writing blog posts…
I also had a decision to make: where to head next? I’d initially planned to visit Yosemite, but after mmuch deliberation decided to skip it for this trip. There were forest fires in the north of the park, and although those weren’t much risk, many of the roads and campgrounds were closed. Those that remained open were fully booked for the weekend. It was almost Labor Day, after all. So, I decided to head directly to King’s Canyon and spend more time there and in the other parks; I’d also be able to travel at a more relaxing pace rather than try to cram in all the parks in a rush. So, after my stay at the hotel I got back on the freeway and drove west.
This area is filled with fruit farms and is some of the most fertile land on earth, but what was surprising to me was how dry and arid the land around the fields was. Almost every drop of water must be carefully marshaled so that it goes to crops; the loose soil and lack of natural plants means that most rain must drain directly to reservoirs rather than remaining in the soil. Also in this farmland, I saw my first migrant workers, crouched over in the hot fields. What brutal work; it’s strange that this was the first time in my life that I’ve seen intensive non-mechanized farm labor.