California, Condors

Posted on 02 April 2012

Mincy says:

We'd been working pretty hard lately, so we decided to take a full weekend off to recharge the creative batteries. And by full weekend, I mean we left work at 3 on Friday afternoon and did some wine tasting at Rotta Winery, which happens to be about a mile from the studio. By the 12th glass I was starting to talk like a 1930s newspaper writer, and that's always an indication that it is time to stop and my wife is usually leading me out the door by the elbow. "Now listen here, see, you're not going to tell me when I've had too much to drink, see..." 

Saturday found us driving down toward Santa Barbara to pick up Kim's son Christian for spring break. Brightly colored, striped buildings lured us off the road, and we found ourselves at a post-apocalyptic flea market in Nipomo. The parking attendant took my $2 while ignoring my cheerful "Good morning". Once inside the gates we found this bizarre outdoor train set, populated with dolls and McDonald's Happy Meal toys.

The pickings at the stalls were equally bleak. One young, meth-addled gentleman took a drag off a cigarette and narrowed his eyes at the Western shirt I had bought in Austin. Through ruined teeth he said, "I'm going to throw this out there: that is one sick-ass shirt, bro." After we left, we realized the compliment was the only thing we got.

In Santa Barbara we had lunch at what was Julia Child's favorite Mexican place, La Super Rica. The handmade tortillas were well worth the wait, which was pretty considerable. There was a guy in line that had just completed a triathlon, and he was just being a sonofabitch to everyone. Oh, well. I mean, he had just finished a triathlon, and he had numbers written all over him so everybody just tried to ignore him. I had the Super Rica Especial, which has roasted pasilla peppers, cheese and pork. Dirt cheap deliciousness.

Sunday we were up early and drove an hour and a half up through the Salinas Valley to Pinnacles National Monument. Little did we know we were going to have one of the most incredible experiences of our lives. 

The air was bitterly cold but the sun was shining when we started up the trail at 9 a.m.

We were about a half an hour on the trail when we stopped to rest on some rocks. Christian felt this lizard shoot up his sleeve:

Large shadows crossed the far spires, and suddenly here was an incredible whoosh of wings and a huge California Condor landed on a rock about 20 feet away. I had heard there were Condors here, but I was unprepared to see one so close. We could easily read the identifying number and the GPS transmitters that were affixed to the wings.

The size of the bird was hard to take in. It seemed interested in us, and boldly walked in our direction. Kim spotted another Condor flying closer and closer, and it landed next to the first. 

We didn't move for a half an hour, and as we sat quietly, both birds slowly approached until they were about 10 feet away. We moved slowly down the path, and as we did the birds moved to the edge of the rock above us to watch us pass beneath them. One scampered down the rock and looked ready to leap onto Kim. The only cameras we had were our iPhones, but we were able to take some video of the experience:

To hang out with such a rare and beautiful animal, one that had been pushed to the absolute razor's edge of extinction, in a place that Teddy Roosevelt had saved from exploitation by making it a National was raw and emotional in a way that was unexpectedly and deeply moving. The fragility of everything was visible in that moment, when this bird that had been almost destroyed by man yet saved by man looked over the rock face and into my eyes...I tell you. It was something else. Granted, it was probably calculating how it could remove my eyes cleanly from their sockets.

What a weekend.

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  • ginger: April 28, 2012

    OMG, you lucky, lucky, lucky people….. I would LOVE to see a CA condor!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  • Tom: April 04, 2012

    I have sparrows in my yard. This is cooler.

  • Diana Q: April 03, 2012

    Mind-blowing experience…and so amazing you had a chance to capture and share the experience. You GO MIncy!

  • Belinda Del Pesco: April 03, 2012

    Wow, the photos and the story are both amazing, but then the video of the condors flying, landing, and extending a neck to swivel and look directly at you! Unbelievable! Ive never seen them in scale, and they look enormous and almost prehistoric. This is wonderful. Thanks so much for sharing. Yayy for three day weekends.

  • keri: April 03, 2012

    wowwwww! that is sooo cool! I have never seen one -thanks for posting!!!

  • Emily Moe: April 03, 2012

    I remember when there were three left. You had three in the shot at one point. Gives me chills and brings tears to my eyes.

  • Charmain Giuliani: April 03, 2012

    I actually am pretty sure he does lock his own focus on oyu near the end….

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