Winter is seal season at Ano Nuevo

January 23, 1994|By Mary Forgione

The elephant seals are a year-round attraction at Ano Nuevo State Reserve, but the breeding and birthing season from December through March offers an opportunity to see them in large numbers with their young.

The reserve, a 4,000-acre strip of coastal bluffs, dunes and mountains, is about 22 miles north of Santa Cruz, and 55 miles south of San Francisco. The entrance to the park is less than a mile off Highway 1.

Through March, visitors are limited to touring the park on guided walks, and reservations are required. Tickets are $2 per person, plus a day-use fee of $4 per vehicle. There are no refunds for cancellations, and walks proceed as scheduled, rain or shine.

The guided walks depart every 15 minutes from 8:45 a.m. to 2:45 p.m. Weekdays are easier to book than weekends. Reservations can be made up to eight weeks in advance, or as late as 10 days before the desired date. March 20 is the last date reservations will be taken.

For last-minute openings, park volunteers schedule four "open walks" daily when they try to accommodate visitors on a first-come, first-served basis. Show up at 10 a.m. at the visitors center to sign up for a standby list. Again, weekdays are better than weekends.

Visitors should arrive at least 15 minutes before their hike time. The walk is three miles round-trip and takes about 90 minutes to complete. Bring layered clothing, including a windbreaker and rain gear, particularly for children, because part of the walk crosses dunes that can be windy, wet and foggy.

There are no water sources or bathrooms along the trail, and no food or beverages are sold at the reserve (food is prohibited on the guided walks).

For photography buffs, take along a telephoto lens to get close-ups of the elephant seals. Visitors are required to stay at least 20 feet from the animals, and docents allow an even wider berth with groups.

If you fail to get reservations or access to the reserve during breeding time, don't despair. Weaned elephant-seal pups remain the dunes through April. During the summer, elephant seals visit the reserve to molt: females from April to May, young males from June to July and adult males from July to August. From April through November, visitors must obtain a hiking permit to ,, enter the wildlife protection area at Ano Nuevo Point. The permits are issued on a first-come, first-served basis from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.

For recorded information about the reserve, call (415) 879-0227.

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