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Año Nuevo State Park is 20 miles (32 km) north of Santa Cruz. It is known for Elephant Seals, huge animals that can be as long as 15 ft (4.5 m) and as heavy as 5,500 lbs (2,500 kg). In the 19th century they were hunted to near extinction because their blubber or fat could be turned into oil. Only 200 were alive at the beginning of the 20th century when the Mexican and American governments gave them protected status.

They began arriving in Año Nuevo (New Year) point in 1955 to breed and molt. They now number about 124,000 and people go to Año Nuevo State Park to see them from November to May, or perhaps even all year round. We drove to the park one cloudy day to see what it was all about.

From the parking area, it was a 3-mile (4.8 km) round trip to a viewing area. Here’s a view of a deserted beach we saw while hiking the trail.

Coastline at Año Nuevo State Park.

Coastline at Año Nuevo State Park.

On the way, a Spotted Towhee was singing merrily. This was the first time I had ever seen one.

Black-headed Grosbeak.

Spotted Towhee.

At this time of the year seals come and lay on the beach to molt over 30 days, without eating anything. When we came near the beach where they lounged about, the unpleasant smell of their body waste was unmistakable.

Elephant Seals molting on a beach at Año Nuevo.

Elephant Seals molting on a beach at Año Nuevo.

Elephant Seals molting on a beach at Año Nuevo.

Elephant Seals molting on a beach at Año Nuevo.

Two male Elephant Seals confronting each other.

Two male Elephant Seals confronting each other.

We didn’t stay too long at the viewpoint because of the smell, and also because it started raining and I only had a plastic bag to protect my camera.

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