Santa Cruz and the Big Basin filled with 2,000-year-old trees

Santa Cruz is a beautiful city, right on the shores of the Pacific.

We walked down the famous Santa Cruz pier. It is a stunning point from which to take in views of the city. But one surprise we didn’t expect upon reaching the end is water full of sea lions, swimming and playing. We had seen lots of them earlier, sunning themselves on rocks along the shoreline, but this was the first time we saw them actually in the water. The pier was full of people, and many of them decided to take the time to simply watch the sea lions in their natural habitat.

At another point on the pier, a seagull toyed with a fish it had recently caught in the water.

The waves of Santa Cruz are spectacular enough to draw crowds of surfers, anxious to ride the perfect one. We watched many surfers, who almost look like they are putting on a special water show. Some were relatively new to the sport, others have been cresting waves for years, but they all try to do the same thing: catch the perfect wave and ride it for as long and as well as they can.

Blue whale skeleton

Blue whales are the biggest creatures in the world. They can be seen throughout Monterey Bay. I had the opportunity to see a skeleton of one such whale. It belonged to a blue whale that washed up on the shore in 1979. Scientists flayed it of its skin and its flesh, and then the enormous skeleton was carried by helicopter to where it sits now. The skeleton is now supported by iron rods, and set up in a spot where people can admire and learn from its shape and size.

A little further down the shoreline we saw another whale skeleton. This one apparently belonged to a gray whale.

 Sea lions

While here, we visited the famous Monterey Bay Aquarium, which has been open for 30 years. This aquarium is run by a nonprofit organization, and contributes hugely to the awareness of the protection of the oceans and the animals that inhabit them. The aquarium receives around 2 million visitors annually, and has more than 35,000 fish and mammals living in it, with more than 550 species under one roof. As usual, the shark section of this aquarium is one of the most popular spots for visitors — for some reason, people remain intrigued by this predatory fish.

There are also lines of “ghost trees” along the shoreline here, with dried trunks and thick branches.

Big Basin

Leaving Santa Cruz behind, we headed for Big Basin Redwoods State Park. The roads were slick with rain and we walked and admired our surroundings, finally reaching the spot where so many redwood trees crowd the vistas. Redwood trees are the world’s largest type of tree, stretching some 115 meters into the air. Interestingly, not only are these trees enormous in size, but in age too; they can live up to 2,000 years. And while you might suppose this makes them the oldest living tree in the world, you’d perhaps be interested to learn that, in fact, the Sequoia tree lives even longer: up to 3,500 years! So long are the redwood trees, it’s hard to photograph them all in one shot.

A redwood tree

Redwoods are also extraordinary for the width of their trunks — you can see a trunk through which a tunnel has been carved that cars can actually fit into. The air in this forest is unforgettable, so clear and clean. We came upon a part of a tree lying on the ground, one in which the years are clearly marked by the lines in the wood. Every circle, every level of the wood herein has meaning, and calculations from this particular inner slice of this tree’s trunk shows that it was 1,392 years old when it was cut. The tree itself was cut in 1936. So it began its life as a sprout in the year 544! It’s stunning just to imagine everything, all the ages, this tree has witnessed.

Big Basin

After our trip to the Big Basin, we decided to visit the famous Farmers’ market in Fremont, a great place to get fresh fruit and vegetables, not to mention enjoy live music and even pick up lunch (barbequed meat, etc.), while you’re at it.

Quick facts

Capital: Washington, D.C.

Ethnic groups: White (79.96 percent), black (12.85 percent), Asian (4.43 percent), Amerindian and Alaska native (0.97 percent), native Hawaiian and other Pacific islander (0.18 percent), two or more races (1.61 percent) (July 2007 estimate)

Languages: English (82.1 percent), Spanish (10.7 percent), other Indo-European (3.8 percent), Asian and Pacific Island (2.7 percent), other (0.7 percent) (2000 census)

Government: Constitution-based federal republic; strong democratic tradition

Note: President is both chief of state and head of government

Area: 9,826,675 square kilometers

Population: 318,892,103 (July 2014 est.)

Gross domestic product (GDP): $16.72 trillion (2013 est.)

Religions: Protestant (51.3 percent), Roman Catholic (23.9 percent), Mormon (1.7 percent), other Christian (1.6 percent), Jewish (1.7 percent), Buddhist 0.7 percent), Muslim (0.6 percent), other or unspecified (2.5 percent), unaffiliated (12.1 percent), none (4 percent) (2007 est.)

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