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Nature at its naked best
Monterey's natural assets are a ready-to-wear adventure for travelers seeking the real deal, California-style
Agence France-Presse
Page 20
2009-07-29 01:05 AM
Travelers today seek more than a hot little hammock to tick away their vacation time. According to the Travel Industry of America, adventure pursuits are taking a front seat in travel planning, including activities such as kayaking, scuba diving and mountain climbing. The new breed of "experiential travelers" is also on the rise, according to TravelZoo's Gabe Saglie. This concept translates into less time "zoning out" and more time learning or experiencing a destination's assets from the ground up. According to Saglie, more than 50 percent of Americans are interested in this type of travel.

Safari with sea lions, cavort with California condors or dive for monsters of the deep - the region's natural assets are a ready-to-wear adventure for travelers seeking the real deal, California-style. With 99 miles of pristine coastline, the 5,312 sq. mile Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary, stunning string of California parklands and outback of Big Sur, this region is rich in rewards year round.

Liquid Assets - Kayak Surfing, Estuary Safaris & Scuba for Monsters of the Deep

Dive in for an adrenalin-based escape fresh with bracing sea breezes and wide open spaces. New on the radar of ocean experiences is Kayak Surfing. For the ultimate challenge, dump the longboard and take to the waves in a kayak. Learn the art of carving, roll techniques and how to get in/out of the wave in a safe, serene environment. Lessons and a full line of specialty surf kayaks are available at Kayak Connection. Those hot on Laird Hamilton's new sport can hit the waves running with classes in S.U.P. - or stand-up paddling. This new trend emanating from Hawaii combines surfing with canoe-style paddling in a stand up position, exercising the core and sense of balance. Learn to walk on water via classes covering the basics of balance, strokes and paddling techniques. www.adventuresbythesea.com, www.kayakconnection.com.

Avid SCUBA divers can track the monsters of the deep - reportedly sighted just off the Big Sur Coast - or the bizarre giant squid with three hearts, blue blood and enormous brains spotted in the depths of Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary. Novices can sleuth the seas via Monterey Bay Dive Center with a full day Discover SCUBA program. Instruction and dives at the Sanctuary (with an underwater canyon twice as deep as the Grand Canyon), Point Lobos State Nature Preserve or San Carlos Beach offer insight into the region's rich diversity of sea life. www.montereybaydivecenter.com. For the smaller set, Monterey Bay Aquarium{'s Underwater Explorers program treats kids 8 - 13 years to an aquatic adventure with a surface SCUBA dive in the Great Tide Pool on Monterey Bay. www.mbayaq.org.

For a vivid postcard of this region's ecosystem and wealth of wildlife, naturalists can dial into the Elkhorn Slough Safari, a classic outback tour aboard a 27-foot pontoon. Spreading 1,400 acres and reaching inland nearly seven miles from the coast, the Elkhorn Slough Reserve steps up with some 400 plant species, 80 kinds of fish and 340 types of birds, including such rare species as the Peregrine Falcon and Snowy Plover. Photo safaris and birding workshops are also available. Kayaking the slough is another option. www.elkhornslough.com.

The enormous depths of Monterey Bay paired with a 99-mile stretch of coastline draw a rich and varied lineup of whales and wildlife. Among the most impressive are gray whales, some 7,000 behemoths, migrating from the Bering Sea to Mexico's Baja Peninsula between December and March. Also popular are humpbacks and blue whales, the largest animals in the world, which feed on the nutrient-rich waters from June through October-November. Visitors can tap into a whale watching tour, rent a sailboat or stay closer to shore with a naturalist-led kayak tour with Adventures by the Sea. www.chriswhalewatching, www.adventuresbythesea.com.

Call of The Wild - Condor Camp, Bat Tours , Bear Encounters & wild Boar sausage

Clock the comeback of the California condor at Ventana Wildlife Society's newly-constructed (4/09) condor base camp. With a wingspan of nearly 10 feet, North America's largest land bird and one of the largest flying birds in the world is truly a magnificent sight to see. Enthusiasts can overnight at the rustic rearing/release facility set 2,800 ft. above the Pacific in Big Sur and participate in tracking and feeding these giants of the sky. Happy hour includes watching the birds fly in to roost as the sun sets, followed by a hike to the feeding grounds.

On the endangered species list since 1967, the California condor now thrives on Big Sur's rugged coastline and at Pinnacles National Monument in Soledad. Since 1998, Ventana Wildlife Society has re-established 42 condors to the wild. Other options include day trips to base camp and two-hour tracking tours led by a wildlife biologist using specialized equipment to monitor nesting, feeding and flying habits. www.ventanaws.org.

Seeking a rendezvous with a Townsend's Big Ear Bat or talusing under 23 million-year-old volcanic rock formations? Hightail it to the Pinnacles National Monument. Home of the California condor release program and a crazy collection of crimson conical spires marking the remnants of an ancient volcano along the San Andreas Rift Zone, this is ground zero for ranger-led bat walks, "experiential" night hikes and eyeing 20+ condors who reside on this lunar-scape. The Monument sports two "talus" caves - a system of passages snaking under and between house-size boulders - offering a natural habitat for bats. Visitors can strike out solo to the Balconies Cave and Bear Gulch Cave, housing some 14 species of bats including the Townsend's Big Ear bat and Western Mastiff bat, with a wing span of 12 inches. Opened in 1908, the monument is a true character builder for hikers, climbers and nature lovers. Learn the ropes via Sanctuary Gym, which offers instructional rock climbing day-trips complete with gear. www.nps.gov/pinn; www.rockgym.com.

"Monkeying around" is redefinied at Wild Things, an exotic animal training facility housing 100+ animals on 50 acres of rugged outback. Set in Steinbeck country just outside the city of Salinas, this working facility and rescue camp offers a deluxe seven-hour Walk with the Animals program. Sign up for a stint washing an African elephant, training session with Brandi (an American black bear of Grizzly Adams fame) or take the ultimate catwalk with an exotic cat or Elvis the kangaroo. Also allowed: monkey play dates or quality time fluffing up the lions. Guests can overnight in four safari-style suites on a remote savanna, with breakfast delivered by an elephant. www.wildthingsinc.com.

Pack those chaps and spurs for an authentic cattle drive at V6 Ranch in Parkfield, the self-proclaimed "Earthquake Capital of the World" where residents prefer their eggs scrambled and martinis shaken. Just 23 miles from Highway 101, this rustic town of lodge pole cabins and wide open spaces is officially the most studied spot on earth for earthquakes. Here, wannabe cowboys can saddle up for a real Western cattle drive on 50 miles of trails at the Varian family's 20,000 acre ranch. Rides include plenty of daytime cattle work, delicious ranch style fixin's and fireside sing-alongs once the suns sets. V6 also offers a "Ranch Life in California" program teaching traditional Vaquero horsemanship from a Hall of Fame Honoree, including the basics of team sorting, rope handling and working cattle by horseback. www.parkfield.com. True city slickers can opt for day rides at Holman Ranch, Pebble Beach Equestrian Center, Molera Horseback Tours and Marina Equestrian Center. www.holmanranch.com; www.ridepebblebeach.com; www.molerahorsebacktours.com.

Hunting for a little breakfast is harder than it sounds, especially if wild boar is on the menu. Hunters with an ancestral urge bag a boar and pack home a little homemade sausage can get their fix on 30,000 acres of fertile hunting grounds surrounding Fort Hunter Liggett and King City, often called the "Wild Boar Capitol of California." Weighing in at 200+ lbs., with two-inch tusks, wild boar are not an easy big game get and are usually tracked on private land requiring a qualified guide.

Daily treks in Steinbeck Country's verdant rolling hills dotted with California oak and the meandering Salinas River are offered by a variety of outfitters. Pack a sense of adventure. www.edrothhunting.com.

Visitor Information

Monterey County is located 120 miles/192 km south of San Francisco and 345 miles/552 km north of Los Angeles along the classic California corridor. The region boasts 99 miles of prime Pacific Coastline, the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary, three historic missions, 40,000 acres of premium vineyards, 25 golf courses and nearly 200 lodging properties.

The Monterey Peninsula Airport (MRY), just three miles from historic downtown Monterey and minutes from the area's major attractions, is served by non-stop flights to and from Denver (DIA), Salt Lake City (SLC), Las Vegas (LAS), Phoenix (PHX), Los Angeles (LAX and ONT), San Diego (SAN) and San Francisco (SFO).

Visitors Bureau information: Monterey County Convention & Visitors Bureau Website: www.seemonterey.com

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