And maybe the last?
In all the previous years of our snorkeling adventures, we’d done day trips to Shaw’s Cove (Orange County) and two-day overnights to La Jolla (San Diego County). Last year, however, an unexpected benefit of the pandemic was less traffic. We were able to do same day trips to La Jolla multiple times.
We tried it again this year on a Saturday in the middle of August (prime summer!) and didn’t have the same luck. The trip down came with even more bumper-to-bumper slow-downs than we’d experienced in the Before Times. The entire San Onofre to Oceanside Camp Pendleton undeveloped straight shot was slowed to a standstill. That said, there were also several accidents in that same span, at least one requiring EMS, so perhaps this was merely bad luck and not the new normal. I think we need to try again to be sure!
As a consequence of the slowdowns, we didn’t get to La Jolla Shores Beach until 2pm, and by then it was more packed with people than we’d ever seen it. One of the reasons we stopped visiting La Jolla Cove a few years ago was the throng of people making it a less than relaxing experience for us and the wildlife. The Cove is so bad now that the animals are dying from human Instagram photo shoots.
On Saturday La Jolla Shores Beach was every bit as packed as the Cove had been in the past. It wasn’t quite peak Qingdao, but almost.
Don’t believe me? Below is a live shot from 4pm Sunday afternoon, as the weekend crowds are clearing out and the kayaks are being all dragged back into storage.
Yesterday the tide was at its highest around 2pm and as I walked down past those blue and white parasols I noticed some peculiar behaviour. La Jolla Shores beach is one of the best places on Earth to see the wealth gap in action. Although the entire beach is meant to be “public,” any beachfront in front of one of the hotels is informally (or formally? I dunno, is there a deal with the city?) claimed by the guests of the hotel via those colored parasols, the matching chairs, and hotel staff that do spot checks to push out any undesirables (non-guests). We, uh, know from experience about that last part.
Anyway, that’s a long setup just to tell you that it was hilarious to walk by the well to do as they looked around for the hotel staff in a panic as the tidewater literally rushed up and under their butts in those short-legged beach chairs.
We typically set up camp (might as well call it that since we bring a little tent) just north of the edge of that big hotel on the right, where the lifeguard station is. However, the marine park is down at the southern end of the beach (the webcam is pointing north), past the kayak berthing area, and down past another long beachfront hotel until you get to the literal marine room that extends into the surf.
By the time I walked down there, it was nearly 2:30 and, unlike the webcam shot the next day, the sun was hidden behind clouds so dark we were worried it may rain. There was no way I was going to drive for nearly 4 hours and not even try to see a shark though, so I pulled my accessories together and dove in.
The water was fairly clear after you get past the (small) breaking waves. However, the dim sunlight made finding much of anything a chore. I did manage to figure out that a pile of rays was hiding in a carved-out section between the rocks in the preserve.
They were also joined by a spiny California lobster or two
It was amusing for a bit to try and photograph these familiar folks, but the real attraction for La Jolla Shores snorkelers is always the famous leopard sharks. I did see one shark over in the preserve area (and a shovelnose), but gave up on finding a shiver quickly. Not because I was impatient, I have just never actually found the swarms in that part of the water, even though that’s where every online article claims they should be.
So I headed north, back towards where that webcam is.
And there I found them, in the shallowest, murkiest, most chaotic and foot-filled part of the beach. The next hour was spent rolling and tumbling through detritus barely two feet high following the tell-tail dark outlines of that peculiar animal. Unfortunately because of the dim light and the cloudy water my photos and videos weren’t going to improve upon last year’s.
The videos came out more “artistic” than usual, with the creatures appearing and disappearing like vampires on the prowl vanishing as bats into the night when I’d make my presence felt by dipping my camera to the seafloor for an eye-level photo. [now that I’ve been at this for so many years my focus is not just getting photos/videos of these animals, it’s new perspectives and close-ups]
After getting out of the water we were dismayed to find that only 3 of the 6 outdoor shower stations at the beach were working. An angry man told me they were “turned off,” but upon closer inspection I found some of the handles broken. Cutting the shower availability in half while hosting a record (for us, anyway) crowd was a recipe for long lines both for the showers and the bathrooms.
Luckily our trip home didn’t see the same long lines that we’d been stuck in earlier, with the entire trip (including a few slow-downs in orange county and right at our home because of a concert at the bowl [What Pandemic? Let’s mingle with a crowd of thousands shouting for hours!]) taking about two hours and 15 minutes.
So yes, I drove a total of 6 hours to spend one hour with some sharks. Call me crazy (and yes, I appreciate Sam’s patience!) if you like, but when was the last time you swam with sharks?