Darrell Berkheimer: Just a break from all the worrisome news | TheUnion.com

Darrell Berkheimer: Just a break from all the worrisome news

“You deserve a break today,” the old TV commercial began. I don’t even remember what the old commercial was advertising – just that beginning line.

But I suspect that most of us have been filled up to our eyeballs lately in election and pandemic news. So today I want to lead you on a little break from all that dreadful serious and worrisome news – by offering an interesting California travel story. And it’s available – in one form or another – to everybody.

For about two years I had been wanting to kayak the Elkhorn Slough – a winding, 7-mile long broad strip of marshland river water and tide water. It meanders upstream from Moss Landing, at the middle of Monterey Bay.

I suspect many Californians have driven that way a number of times as they traveled coastal Highway 1 through that produce-rich area of California. It’s the area where Gilroy bills itself as the “Garlic Capital of the World,” and Castroville claims the title of “Artichoke Capital of the World.”

Large fields of strawberries also are quite noticeable; and a long list of various produce is shipped nationwide in refrigerator trucks by Salinas-area processors.

In addition, Moss Landing is known for great seafood at the restaurants located there.

What makes the trip to Elkhorn Slough enjoyable for anyone is the sea-life and birds that frequent the area daily. Seals, sea lions and otters feed and romp in the area, and often are seen in congregations along the edge of the water. The slough also is a draw for more than 300 bird species – especially pelicans, lots of pelicans.

I have two kayaks of my own. But that’s not a requirement for anyone to enjoy the slough. Kayak rental vendors, complete with guides for groups, work out of Moss Landing. In addition, Elkhorn Slough Sarfari Tours, with naturalist guides, can take groups of 20 or more on catamaran boats into the slough.

Ralph Hitchcock of Nevada City, who grew up in Salinas, reported he kayaked the Elkhorn Slough during his youth. He warned about the extra work of paddling into the slough during that period right before low tide when the water is rushing back out toward the ocean.

To kayak the slough is just a bit too much for a one-day trip from Grass Valley, and I wanted company on an overnight trip. It’s not advisable to make trips like that alone – especially for us older folks. You never know what can happen, so it’s best to travel with a friend.

I enlisted retired educator Joe D’Andrea of Penn Valley, who went with me on a previous, short kayaking trip to Deer Creek Reservoir – AKA Lower Scotts Flat.

Kayaking, like hiking and camping, is something we can enjoy away from the house in this pandemic period of mostly staying at home.

To stimulate Joe’s interest in the trip, I advised him to do an internet search on videos about kayaking Elkhorn Slough. Often there are seven or eight to as many as a dozen videos there, lasting from two minutes to six or more. Three or more will be videos posted by rental vendors. Additional ones will be periodically posted and removed by slough visitors.

We got on the water about 10:15 a.m. – after a high tide at 8:39 a.m. So the tide was only slowly receding at that time.

I was disappointed that we did not see lines of seals, sea lions or otters beached at the water’s edge, as seen is some of the videos. Apparently, they do that during low tide. But low tide the day we were there was not until 8:31 p.m., when it was dark. And we got off the water by mid-afternoon.

Of course, one of the main reasons I wanted to make the trip was to take photos. But I learned that getting good photos from a kayak is not easy with the water moving and the wind. And with my zoom lens – up to 42X – it was hard to keep the subject in view. Sometimes all I got was water, or just a part of the subject at the top, bottom or side of the frame.

I’m guessing I took 100 or more photos – nearly half of which I subsequently deleted from the camera before transferring into my laptop. And from the 55 I transferred, I saved and processed only 27.

The Elkhorn Slough also has a National Estuarine Research Reserve visitor center, which has been closed because of the pandemic. But trails are available at the center.

Even a visit to one of the Moss Landing restaurants often reveals photo-worthy sights of the sea life and birds.

Darrell Berkheimer, who lives in Grass Valley, is a frequent contributor to The Union. He has seven books available through Amazon. His sixth, Essays from The Golden Throne, includes 60 columns published by The Union, plus a dozen western travel and photo essays. Contact him at mtmrnut@yahoo.com.

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