We have been in the Monterey area just over six months, longer than we’ve lived anywhere since 2014. As the months go by, we look for new places to explore, new parks to visit, new neighborhoods to walk around. The results are always intriguing.
Hatton Canyon is a broad trail through a forested area, yet parking is in a small shopping center. Just down the path from the Barn shopping complex outside Carmel-by-the-Sea, a bike trail goes under a bridge and there’s a dirt road going off into the woods. We’ve been down this trail a couple of times recently, and there are always birds to see, and rarely any other walkers. If you’re not interested in birds, there’s not much going on, but the lack of company has been relaxing. There’s been no need to wear a mask. Though the mask situation is changing, the walk is still pleasant. We went out to Hatton Canyon to make our bird count for Global Big Day on May 8, and saw 23 species of birds. The most fun are the California quail. They graze along the edge of the trail, hiding a flock of chicks that match the color of the ground. Just when we became accustomed to quail in the road, we began seeing them in the trees, like plump, overgrown robins.
El Estero Park is another place that surprises us by how interesting each walk has been. Best known for its Dennis the Menace playground at one end, the park surrounds a U-shaped lake, remnant of a waterway that once emptied into Monterey Bay. The surroundings are urban, with housing to the east and west, and the campus of Monterey Peninsula Community College to the south. Dennis the Menace park was closed for more than a year. It recently reopened and was swarming with children when we visited this week. While the park seems hemmed in, the seashore is just to the north, and the loop of lake encloses quiet cemeteries (and a dog park). It’s a something-for-everyone location. We have had peaceful walks along the lake, and seen unusual birds (red-necked phalarope) among the families, fishermen, cyclists, runners, and baby carriages. As we strolled with our binoculars the other day, a man asked whether we were there for the baseball game. Sure enough, there’s a large baseball field tucked in yet another corner.
We’ve walked around different neighborhoods, too, getting a sense of what different areas are like. There’s a portion of Pacific Grove tucked in alongside Pebble Beach, where large houses are gradually replacing smaller ones, and landscaping is generally manicured. The historic section of Pacific Grove is full of smaller houses built between about 1880-1930. Houses that have not been fundamentally altered are eligible for a plaque that has the name of the original owner and the date it was built. Many of these are charming. There must be some good stories here, too, as many of the houses have the names of women as owners, even back as far as the 1880s. Was this an enlightened area, or was there a tax advantage to women as owners?
The neighborhood that surprised us the most was on our drive to explore Aguajito Road, an arc that cuts through the south end of Monterey. We turned off at La Mesa, a community up on a hilltop (the mesa). We quickly realized this was a complex of military housing. There were lots of American flags, and very little landscaping (the occupants don’t own their houses). What surprised us was that we saw lots of babies and young children, parents pushing strollers, supervising bicycles, scooters, skateboards, herding small children down the sidewalk while chatting with other adults. There was more family life out in the neighborhood, and more children, than we’ve seen anywhere since Peru. We aren’t sure where all these service persons are posted, but there are quite a few families in La Mesa.
As the time goes by, we keep finding new spots to visit, and we are able to give bits of advice to people we meet while taking a walk. It might be where to park, or what bird we’re looking at, and it is fun to be able to be a part of the local scenery in some way.
[The photo at the top of this post shows a Coastal Access trail. This path, virtually unmarked, runs between two private homes, and if you know it’s there you can use it to walk along a stretch of the coast and visit tiny Malpaso Creek Beach.]