It’s that time of year when the B-52s’ “Love Shack” makes its annual comeback, delighting some and annoying many at barbecues throughout the Bay Area. While I’m certainly in the latter camp , I’ve also been having a much more positive, free-associative reaction to the tune this season.
Whenever I hear croaky vocalist Fred Schneider bellow “I got me a car, and its as big as a whale” my mind flashes on a visit I paid to Año Nuevo State Park—about 90 minutes south of the city, in San Mateo County—and I want to go back.
While gray whales can occasionally be spotted off the coast of this windswept peninsula during the spring, its the extraordinary elephant seals—many even bigger than a car—that you’re virtually guaranteed to spot lounging on the beach all year round. These are gigantic mofos, with males weighing up to 2.5 tons and measuring up to 16 feet long. During breeding season, from late December through March, 2000 or so of these behemoths crash the beach, and you can only hike the grounds on a ranger-guided tour.
In the summer months, though, when the ellies return to molt in huge raggedy patches, visitors can walk amongst them unchaperoned. Just pick up a permit at the park’s entrance and after hiking a few easy miles over undulating scrub and sand, you’ll find yourself in the land of the giants. The elephant seals are remarkably unthreatened by strolling bipeds. But bipeds like myself feel humbled in their presence, marveling at their cyclical journeys to and from the northern California shore.
We also think the sound of the seals is pretty much on par with the B-52s.