Eastern Sierras in July

August 5, 2020 at 5:02 pm (Uncategorized)

First light from Whitney Portal Road

Comet NEOWISE was the reason for my second mini-road trip of the summer. I’ve already made two posts on the comet, so this will feature the daytime landscapes from Lone Pine to Mono Lake.

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First light from Whitney Portal Road
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Moon sliver looking east from Whitney Portal Road

I adore the mountain scenery around Lone Pine and Independence, showcasing the gorgeous peaks looming above the valley. A huge earthquake shook this area between my trip in early June and mid-July, but all was quiet on the eastern front.

I was surprised that the night temperature was warm enough to sit outside and watch the stars in shorts. It had cooled down by morning, but the air stayed crisp and clear.

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From Fort Independence Road

Even though I had a “carefully planned” itinerary, I deviated from it to indulge in whims and adjust to lighting and weather conditions. Next stop: Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest.

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Bristlecone Pine Poster Child

The iconic dead bristlecone featured on numerous posters and photographs is toward the end of the Discovery trail, which starts near the visitor center. At 10,000 feet or so elevation, and four months after hip replacement surgery and years of underactivity, I figured the 3/4 mile trail would be a challenge.

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It actually wasn’t too bad, even though I had to stop and rest a lot. There were some cool little flowers, stunted and small due to the harsh environment at elevation on the dolomite soils of the White Mountains.

The name of the tree comes from the bristles on the young cones. All the ones I saw were decorated with glistening sap, which lost the diamond sparkle in the photos.

Due to COVID-19 the campground was closed, but the picnic area made a nice lunch stop.

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From what I’ve seen on the Eastern Sierras and Hwy 395 Facebook page, the Sierras are known for spectacular cloud formations. This wasn’t in that category but still interesting.

I took a short trip down Hwy 120 to look for wild horses, but didn’t find any. I did find a field of small magenta flowers, though. I had hoped for a clear night to photograph the comet with Mono Lake tufas but it didn’t look like it would happen. So I found a great forest service dispersed campsite overlooking the lake and did time lapses of the Milky Way and the very short peek of the comet when the clouds cleared just enough. (See previous posts)

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Tufas from Navy Beach

It seems there are fewer tufas than there used to be. They are very fragile and were formed when the lake was deeper (before Los Angeles started draining it for its citizens) and underwater spring minerals combined with those in the lake.

I decided to head back to the Alabama Hills for another try at the comet, since the skies were packing with clouds. I even heard a thunderclap at Agnew Meadows in Devil’s Postpile. To get there I had to drive through the small town of Mammoth. I was stunned to see so many tourists in the midst of a pandemic. My favorite fast food stop for coffee and drive-up breakfast – McDonald’s – was now a huge Starbucks! I should have stopped there, but thought I was mistaken, and kept looking. I finally found what seems to be the only drive-up fast food restaurant in town – Carl’s, and got my coffee and breakfast burrito. Driving to the postpile, I passed under ski lifts that were loaded up with mountain bikes and their riders (each in separate cars.) Sooo many people…

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Cornflower, or false green hellebore

At the Devil’s Postpile entrance station there was an orange traffic cone that kept drivers from pulling too close to the window. Signs said visitors need to wear masks at the window, and the ranger did as well. She passed my brochure to me with a long-handled grabber. Very smart. Unfortunately, even though I was early, the parking lot at the trailhead was packed. Many groups of people were walking past unmasked and talking loudly on the narrow boardwalk. It disgusted me. They should have rangers at trailheads and the destination to enforce the state law on mask wearing. I turned around at the trailhead and went to Agnew Meadows, figuring to return in the off-season when the idiots weren’t around.

Agnew Meadow is known for wildflowers, but even better were the butterflies. The bright copper I photographed was by far the best, and a new one for me. Except for the folks backpacking the Pacific Crest Trail, I had the place to myself. I didn’t cover too much ground because the butterflies and moths took most of my attention. And when I heard the thunderclap, I turned around as I had no rain gear to protect my equipment.

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Hot Creek Geological Site

I stopped at the Hot Creek Geological Site and took a little nap. After all, staying up half the night to take photos of the night sky takes its toll.

Although fishermen are allowed on the banks, people are not allowed in the creek as there have been super-hot releases of water with no warning, and people have been burned. It was in the 90s outside and steam swirled above the cobalt pool, so you KNOW it was hot.

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Arch, Alabama Hills

I found a great campsite at Alabama Hills (it helps to go on a weekday) and photographed the comet, then at dawn I marched down the Arch Trail. Only one other person was ahead of me, and it was already getting hot.

I had heard on the Sierra Wave radio station a historical tidbit about the Onion Valley Road. I had never heard of it before, and since it was close by I decided to explore before heading home. It was a lovely drive, and once there I just hung out near the road photographing flowers and interesting bees and bugs.

The ID of the species will have to wait, otherwise this post might never happen! I’ll end this with photos of some other wildlife seen during this extra-long weekend in the Eastern Sierras. Stay safe. Wear a mask. Keep social distance.

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Time Lapse Comet NEOWISE

July 30, 2020 at 6:41 pm (California, Nature, Nature photography, Night Sky) (, , , , , )

Comet NEOWISE put on quite a show in the Eastern Sierras July 18-20, 2020. My time lapses consist of dozens of still photos put into a video editor, then sped up about 2000 percent.

Because each exposure is 8-10 seconds, and the intervals are 15 seconds, the transitions are not smooth as they would be with professional astrophotography equipment. But they are still revealing. There was a lot of airplane traffic, and even a flyby of the International Space Station, which is the brightest streak. This was from my third night on the road at the Alabama Hills, Lone Pine, California.  I used the tungsten white balance setting to record a more natural looking blue sky.

There was no moon so it made for spectacular Milky Way photography as well. Oddly there aren’t nearly so many airliner streaks. The white balance was set on sunshine.

On the second night of my mini-road trip, I went to Mono Lake, as I had seen some amazing photos of the comet with the otherworldly tufa formations. But the sky was so cloudy I thought I’d have a better experience just camping on a hillside on forest service land and seeing if the sky would clear. I was all by myself, save a few singing coyotes, and it was lovely. However, the clouds only partially cleared for a few minutes before shrouding the comet again.

It was an amazing experience in an amazing place. So long, NEOWISE. See you in 6,800 years or so.

Photos and text copyrighted by Cindy McIntyre
Feel free to reblog or share
Website:  CindyMcIntyre.com
Online gallery:  Smugmug and Fine Art America
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Comet NEOWISE

July 23, 2020 at 8:53 am (California, Nature, Nature photography, Photography, Time-lapse) (, , , , )

I had been seeing some amazing photos of Comet NEOWISE the past couple of weeks but due to light pollution I could not see it from my home. So I took another road trip to the Eastern Sierras. First stop was one of my favorites: Alabama Hills in Lone Pine. The above photo was taken on Day 3. Unfortunately when I zoomed in the focus slipped and since it’s too dark to use auto focus or even manual focus, one needs to finesse the infinity symbol on the lens. It is definitely my best as far as composition and lighting, which was from a passing car. ISO 25,600, f4, 10 sec

Same view, with another section of the rock formations illuminated by headlights. I will include photo details. These were all taken with the Nikon D750 full frame sensor camera, 24-120mm Nikon lens. The blue ones were taken with white balance at tungsten setting. ISO 25,600, f4, 8 sec

Day One (Sat. July 18) with foreground illuminated by my red headlamp. It’s early in the evening (around 9:30 p.m.) but dark enough to see the comet’s tail. ISO 10,000, f4, 1.6 sec.

I was in the Arches Trail parking lot and thought all those folks were there to watch the comet. Nope. I guess it’s a “thing” to walk to the arch at night. Many were there to illuminate the arch with artificial lights and photograph it with the Milky Way, which was to the south.  f4, 6 sec

Milky Way with Jupiter and Saturn. ISO 10,000, f4, 10 sec

International Space Station flyby. I didn’t realize what it was until I had finished the images. It is much brighter than a jetliner and has no blinking lights. ISO 6400, f4, 6 sec. The next two images show it moving eastward. You can check with a NASA website to see when and where you can see it in your area. There’s no cell service in the hills, even though it is a hop, skip and jump from “downtown” Lone Pine, so don’t plan on using Google while you’re there.

Same exposure.

f6.3, ISO 6400, 15 sec. I was trying out different settings to find the “sweet spot.”

This was using the sunlight white balance, which tends to make the scene rusty colored. You can see the arch illuminated by photographers in the lower right. ISO 25,600, f4,10sec.

The comet “set” around 11 p.m. nose-down. The long exposure reveals the split tail. I have night blindness and can’t see faint stars or auroras well, but I could definitely see this comet with the naked eye after my eyes acclimated to the dark. Using a red headlamp to adjust camera exposures keeps the night vision intact. ISO 25,600, f4,10 sec. Most images show jetliner streaks. A few streaks might even be meteors.

This one shows the illuminated arch.

When I was at the Alabama Hills in early June, I was lucky to have found a campsite with gorgeous rock formations, which were illuminated by the full moon. Stars and the Big Dipper were still visible even then. Now there is no moon, and it takes passing headlights to add interest in the rock details. 120mm, ISO 25,600, f4, 10 sec.

Day 2 was at Mono Lake. A photographer I met at Alabama Hills said he’d been skunked at Mono Lake two nights in a row due to clouds. I could see the thick clouds weren’t clearing quickly and didn’t want to walk down to the tufa formations and wait, wait, wait for nothing. I found a wonderfully open spot on forest land above the lake. This was the only decent image I got during the few minutes the comet was visible. I spent the rest of the night making time-lapse images, which I will work on this week.

 

Day 3 also threatened to be a wash-out at Mono Lake, and even though I had planned to do some hiking in that area, my gut told me to return to Alabama Hills. Glad I did. Because it was now Monday night, there were plenty of primitive campsites to choose from. (No potties). I didn’t realize it, but my site overlooked the Arches Trail parking lot. The comet and a jetliner trail are both visible. ISO 2000, f4, 10 sec, 9:22 p.m.

Darn it! The clouds covered the comet for quite awhile.

The nose was emerging.

In the clear! The two images I began this post with were among the last I took here. I’m going to post my favorite again. I only wish it had been properly focused. I guess that means I’ll have to try Topaz or something that promises to sharpen images like this, hopefully without the noise that comes with high ISO exposures.

Even though the comet was closest to earth last night, I stepped out in my front yard to see it. The Big Dipper was visible, but the comet was washed out by lights of Paso Robles. It’s just a small city, but the lights were too bright. Stay tuned for the time lapses when I get them done!

 

Photos and text copyrighted by Cindy McIntyre
Feel free to reblog or share
Website:  CindyMcIntyre.com
Online gallery:  Smugmug and Fine Art America
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Contact:  cindy at cindymcintyre.com

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Montana de Oro

June 30, 2020 at 5:00 am (Bird photography, Birds - California, California, California Central Coast, California wildflowers, Nature, Nature photography, Photography, San Luis Obispo County, Wildflowers) (, )

Mountain of Gold

When I first came to California in 2015, I fell in love with Montana de Oro State Park. I was living in Apple Valley at the time and had a job that gave me a 3-day weekend twice a month, which I took full advantage of.

Now that I live much closer, I feel fortunate to live so near to the most beautiful part of the California coast.

Morro Rock

There are several easy trails in the park, and the one my friend and I took was a little ways before the campground. It seemed popular with surfers, who were also out early at the end of May during this Time of COVID.

Desert Christmas Tree, Pholisma arenarium

We are both into wildflowers and birds, in addition to beautiful landscapes, so our journey from the parking lot to the beach took a little time.

We didn’t see any snowy plovers here

We did see several other kinds of birds, though.

Wrentit in song

The overcast light helped tremendously by not filling our subjects with hot spots and deep shadows.

The Bluff Trail is everyone’s favorite, I think. It’s easy and it takes you to some marvelous overlooks.

The Point Bouchon Trail wasn’t open. As with most things COVID-19, we were lucky we had open spaces to wander safely, to help us keep our sanity.

Despite the bright overcast all morning, we both added some color to our skin from the relaxing and beautiful outing.

Photos and text copyrighted by Cindy McIntyre
Feel free to reblog or share
Website:  CindyMcIntyre.com
Online gallery:  Smugmug and Fine Art America
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Contact:  cindy at cindymcintyre.com

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Eastern Sierras- Day 3

June 29, 2020 at 5:00 am (California, Nature, Nature photography, Photography) (, , )

Lone juniper and clouds

There are many places in the wide open Inyo County forest lands to camp out, and whenever possible I look for free dispersed camping since I just park my car and sleep in it.

The sun had just disappeared from that lone juniper when I was able to stop for a picture, and I had to wait, and wait, and wait for its return. The lead photo is the result. Much more interesting, right?

Another composition

I was also briefly intrigued by a very lonesome landscape around the corner.

Some people love to be surrounded by forests. But they make me feel claustrophobic. I need to see the sky, as much of it as I can, to feel comfortable. This is my kind of landscape, bordered by rugged mountains.

Near Hot Creek, Mammoth

Clouds with character are pretty infrequent in Paso Robles, where I live. There have been months and months of summer skies with barely a cloud in them here, but mountains draw clouds, even create them. I love the play of shadow and light, even though it can mean waiting for the sun to hit a certain part of the landscape for a more interesting photograph.

Hot Creek Geological Site

My goal on the second night of my mini-road trip was the Hot Creek Geological Site. I’d been here two or three times before, in autumn. But I had seen a very lovely photograph of this scene at dawn on a Facebook group page, and ached to have the same experience.

The above photo was taken in late afternoon.

As the sun set, the backdrop of mountains became my focal point.

8 p.m. Sunday
5:30 a.m. Monday morning
5:45 a.m. Monday morning

Below is the same view of Hot Creek, but at dawn.

Hot Creek at dawn

People are not allowed in Hot Creek because the water temperature can go from tolerable to deadly with no warning.

However, the deer found it to their liking.

I encountered more deer on the road out.

This was going to be a short day, since I wanted to get home (a more than six hour drive) before dark. So I stopped at Convict Lake, where on my last visit I had seen an American dipper (formerly called the water ouzel, a name I prefer. I like the letter “z”.)

None of the restrooms were open here, which was extremely irritating and really unnecessary since it was frequented by fishermen and walkers. Fortunately the lodge was open, and so was its restroom. It also had a charming gift shop and I found a few cute things for my two grandbabies there. And yes, everyone in the store wore a mask.

The water sprinklers went on overnight, but since temps were below freezing there were icicles on the new leaves.

I walked the short paved trail partway around the lake, looking for the dipper. I never saw one, but I did see several house wrens singing.

House wren

And to wrap up my trip, some wildflowers.

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Eastern Sierras-part 2

June 28, 2020 at 12:08 pm (California, Nature, Nature photography, Photography, Wildflowers) (, , )

Moonset at dawn from Alabama Hills

Day Two of my short road trip to the Eastern Sierras started with the waning full moon setting behind the mountains at sunrise. Hardly anyone else was up, so I had the view pretty much to myself.

Moonset condensed to 8 seconds

After I had more than enough stills, I decided to video the moon setting behind the mountains. It took 85 seconds, but in processing I sped it up so it takes 8 seconds here.

Moon setting before the sun touches the mountaintops
First Light
I really wanted the moon setting behind these spires, but oh well.
Mt Whitney

I explored the south side of the Whitney Portal Road which held more rock formations and the main campground.

Mt Whitney about a half hour later.

As it was the afternoon before, the air was incredibly crystalline.

I was captivated by the chartreuse cottonwoods in an otherwise brown and gray landscape.

Knowing the Alabama Hills was the site of many movies over the decades, it makes me want to watch those movies just to see how the landscape was part of the story.

Near McGee Creek
Crowley Lake

Then I drove north to explore McGee Creek area. The campground there was closed but the trail was open. I just explored the creek area and about 100 yards into the meadow looking for wildflowers.

Icicles over McGee Creek
Western Wood Peewee
View from McGee Creek trailhead

Next stop was the scenic road to Benton Hot Springs. I didn’t see the wild horses I hoped were there, and when I got to the little tiny town (population 13-1/2) I saw a shack backdropped by a mountain vista. Unfortunately a huge bank of clouds kept it in its shadow, so I waited a half hour for the sun to return.

I thought a town with a whimsical “13-1/2” population would be a fun place to explore. But, nearly every building or site in this town had a “No Trespassing” or “Posted” sign. It definitely did not make me feel welcome. There was a somewhat attractive B&B there, but I’m not sure where the hot springs actually were, nor did I want to find out.

An old car museum? Or a junkyard? Either way, it was “No trespassing.”

I took the “back way” to Hwy 395, with one particular scene on my bucket list – a dawn view of the Eastern Sierras with Hot Creek in the foreground.

I visited the little settlement to the south for gas, and the general store had hot pizza slices, focaccia, and a blueberry scone! Though I had brought some MRE’s (my emergency supply) I much preferred freshly made “real” food. Heavenly! The employees and some of the customers wore masks, thankfully, and of course I made sure to sanitize back in the car.

Check out Part 3 for the rest of the journey.

Photos and text copyrighted by Cindy McIntyre
Feel free to reblog or share
Website:  CindyMcIntyre.com
Online gallery:  Smugmug and Fine Art America
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Contact:  cindy at cindymcintyre.com

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Eastern Sierras-Alabama Hills

June 26, 2020 at 7:35 am (Bird photography, Birds - California, California, Nature, Nature photography, Photography) (, , )

Arch Trail, Alabama Hills, Lone Pine

After more than six months of being “cooped up” due to a deteriorated hip joint, surgery to fix it, and COVID-19, my desire for a road trip was strong. I tried to convince my friend Marilyn, who had been with me since my surgery, to tag along enroute to her former job in Colorado (former because of the pandemic, sadly), but she opted to see the sequoias on the west side of the Sierras instead. So I was solo, and enjoying it immensely.

Alabama Hills

First stop was Fossil Falls just north of Ridgecrest. This was where I spent the night when the Falcon rocket blasted off in Sept. 2018 and filled the sky with light. I had no idea it would be visible from that far away, but it put on a stunning show, and I could even see the return of the reusable engine.

Cerro Gordo road

It was super windy the whole day, and I was anxious to explore new territory. I had read about the Cerro Gordo ghost town, but wasn’t sure I wanted to continue on the road once it got narrow and rutted at the viewpoint of Owens Lake, so I turned back. Unfortunately, the American Hotel there burned down two weeks later, and I wish I had continued to the road’s end.

Alabama Hills

I had also read about the Alabama Hills at Lone Pine, but I really didn’t know just how beautiful the site was until I saw for myself. The area was named by its discoverer for a Confederate ship named the Alabama, but I’m pretty sure it won’t be a target for renaming!

Cottonwoods at Alabama Hills

The backdrop of Mt. Whitney and the Eastern Sierras was stunning, but it was the foreground that enchanted me. The pillow-shaped rocks were very similar to those at one of my favorite areas of Joshua Tree National Park.

I was also fortunate to arrive in late afternoon when the light was at its most stunning.

Arch Trail view from parking lot

I was shocked that the Arch trailhead parking lot was pretty empty, since there were RVs and campers at nearly every nook and cranny up against the hills. I’m not sure if that’s the norm, or if it was because the campgrounds were still closed due to the pandemic. But if you’ll notice above, there is a heart-shaped hole in the rock.

Here’s a zoomed view from the parking lot. The trail was an easy one, and I was in love!

Heart rock from the other side

This wasn’t the famed arch, however. That was found toward the end of the trail (or toward the beginning if one went the opposite direction from the parking lot.)

You could get right up to it. I couldn’t believe there was nobody else clamoring for a turn to look through the window.

Black-throated sparrow

There weren’t a lot of birds or wildflowers in the areas I visited, but this black-throated sparrow didn’t mind telling everyone about his chosen territory.

View from Whitney Portal road

After the hike I drove up Whitney Portal Road. There were several viewpoints looking down in to the valley I had just come from.

View from Whitney Portal
View from Whitney Portal
Whitney Portal

Two days ago, a 5.8 magnitude earthquake occurred several miles from Lone Pine, centered in Owens Lake. There were rockfalls, including a huge rock that crashed into the campground below. Whitney Portal is now closed to climbers/hikers. I’m wondering if the balanced rock at Alabama Hills is still in place.

Inyo County required everyone to wear masks in public, and many did, especially indoors. I limited my public contact, wore a mask, and washed or sanitized my hands when I had to use a public restroom. There was a lovely little park right in Lone Pine where I ate take-out meals.

Moonlight

By dusk I had found an unoccupied and quite lovely spot to camp out. My style of camping is just to park my car, eat my “dinner” and cover myself with a sleeping bag, push the seat back, and go to sleep. I woke up around 2 a.m. to light from the full moon washing over the landscape.

Of course I had to get out the camera and tripod. Unfortunately I guessed at the focus and missed a little, but it’s still a stunning image of the big dipper behind an unusual rock.

It was a magical end to a wonderful first day of my Eastern Sierras roadtrip.

Photos and text copyrighted by Cindy McIntyre
Feel free to reblog or share
Website:  CindyMcIntyre.com
Online gallery:  Smugmug and Fine Art America
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Contact:  cindy at cindymcintyre.com

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Lagniappe

May 28, 2020 at 7:03 pm (Bird photography, Birds - California, California, California Central Coast, California wildflowers, Nature, Nature photography, San Luis Obispo County, Wildflowers) (, , )

Western bluebird male

Lagniappe often means “a little of this, a little of that.” Since I have many hangers-on images that didn’t quite fit into a themed blog, I’m tossing them all in here like a stew.

Mrs. Western Bluebird

This sapsucker-drilled tree has a cavity just perfect for this pair of western bluebirds.

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Big Sur

May 27, 2020 at 7:16 pm (Birds - California, California, California Central Coast, California wildflowers, Monterey County, Nature, Nature photography, Photography, Wildflowers) ()

Nacimiento-Fergusson Road overlooking Big Sur

I’ve driven the challenging Nacimiento-Fergusson Road from Fort Hunter Liggett to Big Sur two or three times before, but last weekend was the first time I’d started in Big Sur going home.

The N-F road had been closed by the Los Padres National Forest because there were complaints of too much traffic on the Pacific Coast Highway (State Hwy 1, aka Big Sur Highway) during the COVID-19 lockdown. The campgrounds had already been closed and folks were availing themselves of road pullouts or wherever they could to camp.

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Southern Monterey County

May 21, 2020 at 8:33 am (Bird photography, Birds - California, Butterflies, California, California Central Coast, California wildflowers, Monterey County, Nature, Nature photography, Photography, Wildflowers) (, , , )

Nacimiento-Fergusson Road at Fort Hunter Liggett
Same view same time last year

The Los Padres National Forest re-opened the Nacimiento-Fergusson Road and I had a hankering to explore one of my favorite areas in Central Coast California.

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