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Monterey Bay and its astonishing new aquarium; it's a good time to explore both.

Why would a group of marine biologists spend seven years and $40 million to build the nation's largest aquarium in Monterey? The answer begins at the bottom of Monterey Bay. Just beyond the rushing waves and drifting fronds of kelp is the head of a submarine canyon deeper than Yosemite Valley, deeper even than the Grand Canyon.

This abyss, called Monterey Canyon (see the fold-out map starting on page 96), fuels one of the West Coast's most diverse ocean environments, teeming with marine life ranging from the common to the bizarre.

The canyon brings great whales and fish-hunting marine birds close to shore, along with strange deep-sea fish. The great depths also lead swirling silver clouds of anchovies into the bay, bringing hungry pelicans and cormorants diving from the sky. Nutrient-rich waters generate food for all bay residents--from microscopic plankton to playful sea otters. Unseen and virtually unknown, the canyon influences everything from the local economy to the weather.

Perched on the edge of the bay in Monterey, the dramatic new aquarium offers visitors a fish-eye look at this amazing ecosystem and its aquatic inhabitants. Scheduled to open October 20, the Monterey Bay Aquarium is housed in a rambling complex at the north end of Cannery Row. It can be the focus of a day, weekend, or longer visit to the Monterey Peninsula.

After you glimpse the bay's underwater world at the aquarium, you can plan your own waterside look at bird and marine mammal life from a score of parks ringing the bay.

Autumn, with its brisk, usually clear weather, is one of the best times to visit. November marks the peak of the fall bird migration and the start of the four-month prime viewing season for marine mammals. A number of whale-watching boat tours and local nature programs get you around and onto the bay. We ofter guidance on the following pages. Much more than a fish "warehouse"

The new Monterey Bay Aquarium is more than just a collection of fish tanks: it is a celebration of the diversity of the entire bay area. "We tried to design the aquarium as an educational facility, to explain all the elements that contribute to this dynamic ecosystem," explains director Julie Packard. "That's why we limited our focus to Monterey Bay. To understand it completely, you need to look at its geology, its oceanography, its biology, and certainly at how man has affected it."

While this may sound ominously technical, acquarium display designers have steered away from the tired box-in-the-wall approach, opting instead for lively exhibits in dramatically shaped tanks that entice you to peer in. Many displays are interactive, inviting a closer look at aquatic occupants. You can get your hands wet at a number of tanks: at one, the fish are fed; at another, you are.

Where display guile won't do, unabashed drama does. Complex habitats are displayed in tanks bigger than most swimming pools; your guides are divers who give in-water introductions of fish and invertebrates alike.

The drama starts as you enter the lobby. Swimming above you are life-size models of whales, dolphins, and porpoises. They lead you to the marine mammal wing and what promises to be one of the most popular exhibits: the sea otter habitat. Open to the sun, this 55,000-gallon tank allows you to watch otters both above and below water.

Fabricated rocks have already proven popular with residents--young pups who were orphaned and found washed up on beaches. Otters eat up to 20 percent of their weight each day, so feeding times will be frequent. This habitat is the first step in what curators hope will become a rescue center for sick or injured marine birds and otters.

Backtrack to the lobby and stop in the small theater for an 8-minute slide show about the aquarium and the bay. It's a good introduction for what comes next.

Walking under a replica of a small felucca, the wooden boat used here by Italian fishermen at the turn of the century, you enter a dim corridor filled with shimmering blue light from the kelp forest tank, pictured on the cover. Facing a massive wall of windows, you have the sensation of looking directly into the sea (for details on the tank, see box on page 95). The kelp forest is one of the most important--and fragile--of the bay's habitats. Divers with special intercoms will explain about kelp inhabitants and feed the fish at least twice a day.

The other major exhibit is the Monterey Bay tank. This hourglass-shaped, 336,000-gallon tank shows creatures living in a progression of bay habitats from wharf pilings to the sandy sea floor and the deep reefs. Several species of large sharks (a 5-foot great white shark had just been added as we went to press) cruise here, along with important bay fish: salmon, bass, and some very nervous mackerel.

Surrounding these two major tanks are more intimate alcoves that explain the chief underwater habitats of the bay in greater detail. Displays show octopus, wolf-eels, and big-eyed fish from the deepest reefs.

The far end of the building is devoted to the intertidal area, with a number of hands-on exhibits that will keep youngsters busy while parents enjoy the sublime bay view from the observation deck. Along with a touchable tidepool, you'll find a bat ray petting and feeding pond, a rocky shores exploration area, and a tank where waves crash into a tidepool.

Behind this is a stunning walk-through aviary occupied by a cross-section of birds that inhabit the salt marsh and sandy shore. From it you can look down on Stanford University's Hopkins Marine Station; seagoing birds often congregate on rocks just off its beach.

Walk up to the second floor for more far-reaching views of the bay and to temporary or traveling exhibits. At the kelp lab, you'll be able to touch and examine invertebrate inhabitants of the kelp forest and take a taste of rubbery kelp fronds--it's a delicate flavor sushi lovers should appreciate.

Plans call for an aquaculture exhibit behind the kelp lab. At our press time, other exhibits on the second floor were still in the planning stages. It's likely that work will still be in progress here and elsewhere in the aquarium beyond opening day.

The aquarium, at the north end of Cannery Row (see map), is open 10 to 6 daily (except Christmas). Admission is $7 for adults, $5 for students and seniors, and $3 for age 3 through 12. A 183-seat restaurant with oyster bar is also open 10 to 6. Parking is $1 a day in the public lot at the corner of Prescott Avenue and Foam Street. For a brochure and aquarium membership details, write to the aquarium, 886 Cannery Row, Monterey 93940, or call (408) 375-3333 for recorded information.

To see Monterey Bay from another perspective, explore any of the numerous beaches, waterfront parks, and reserves shown on our map. Each offers a slightly different look at the bay's geology and marine life. Most parks have good vantage points for birding and watching marine mammals; several have regular interpretive programs.

While Monterey can be socked in with fog during the summer, autumn brings bright, shirt-sleeve days with chilly evenings. Even winter days between storms can be glorious, with sparkling vistas and enough warmth for dipping toes in the surf.

Autumn bird migrations are reaching their peak now in marshes and estuaries; the arrival of the first gray whales and elephant seals in November begins the best time for viewing marine mammals.

Take binoculars or a spotting scope. Scan for whales by looking for telltale spouts (the gray whale's are V-shaped), then watch for arching backs and flukes (tails) as the leviathans sound. Porpoises and dolphins are often mistaken for sharks at first because of their prominent dorsal fins. Sea lions and harbor seals are best viewed when they're lounging on near-shore rocks. Sea otters seldom leave the water, cracking open a shellfish dinner on their tummies while bobbing in the bay.

Access to parks listed here varies: entry fees are per car, and day use means the park closes around sunset (look for posted hours). Undeveloped parks have no facilities; overnight camping is not allowed. State beach campground sites ($8 per night) can be reserved through Ticketon. Numbers are code 408. Beach parks north of Santa Cruz

Ano Nuevo State Reserve. Day use only (8 to 6), $2 entry; call (415) 879-0227 for recorded information on visiting. Elephant seals--the star attractions--start arriving on sandy beaches this month. Through November 30, you can take the 3-mile round-trip hike to the breeding area on your own; permit are obtainable on a first-come basis at the park between 10 and 4. From December 6 through April 30, guided 2-1/2-hour tours ($3 fee) are the only way to see the seals; make reservations immediately through Ticketron.

Natural Bridges State Beach. Day use only, picnic area, $2 entry; 423-4609. A wave-hollowed sea arch and tidepools attract waders on calm, low-tide, days, but the attention-getters now into March are the swarms of monarch butterflies in trees. Hourly guided butterfly walks are normally offered from 10 to 0 on weekdays.

To get there from the Santa Cruz Wharf (where sea lions bark for handouts), take W. Cliff Drive. This scenic 4-mile route (with a separate paved path that bikers share with joggers and roller skaters) hugs the edge of steep cliffs overlooking the ocean. Watch for gray whales, and sea lions at the old lighthouse on Seal Rock. Beach parks on Monterey Bay

The $2 day-use fee (per vehicle) admits you to any of the Monterey Bay state beaches; for information on all beaches except Marina and Monterey, call 688-3241.

Twin Lakes State Beach. Day use. Edges Santa Cruz Harbor. Good birding in marshy areas around edges of Schwan Lake; winter surfing.

New Brighton SB. Camping, day-use picnic area. Sheltered, with shallow, slightly warmer water and generally small surf, this beach is a good one for wading youngsters. (Nearby Capitola City Beach is also good for children, but crowded.)

Seacliff SB. Camping (closed October 1 to mid-March for repairs), day-use picnic area. Birds roost on the hulk of the sunken concrete ship Palo Alto; good fishing from pier and ship for surferch, kingfish.

Manresa SB. Day use. Good waves for experienced surfers; watch for rip currents. Clear-day bay views; not a first choice for picnicking or birding. Better surf-fishing.

Sunset SB. Camping, day-use picnic area. Call ahead (724-1266) for nature walks. Good beach for skim-boarding, jogging; blufftop views. Designated area for flying remote-control gliders. Look for sand dollars and shorebirds at south end; good surf-fishing.

Zmudowski SB. Undeveloped. Horseback riders frequent this beach; good surf-fishing.

Moss Landing SB. Undeveloped. Spit of dunes borders north arm of estuary with good birding; look for harbor seals. On ocean side, rocky jetty at end of Jetty Road offers good fishing and birding.

Elkhorn Slough. Undeveloped. Most importan marshland and bird habitat on the bay (some 20,000 birds per day congregate here during migration peaks), this area is not easily visited. Some key acreage is managed as a preserve by The Nature Conservancy. There is boat access from Moss Landing; small boat launching and a foot trail along the east shore of the slough from Kirby Park (no facilities) off Elkhorn Road. See field trip listing on page 103 for guided birding trips.

Salinas River SB. Undeveloped. Good sandy strand to get away from other beachgoer; popular with horseback riders.

Marina SB. Day use; 649-2836. Hang gliders (novice II certificate required) practice above the giant dunes. Water is cold with dangerous undercurrent; interpretive walks through dunes for groups on request.

Monterey SB. Undeveloped, day use; 649-2836. Popular picnic spot a short walk down the flat beach from Monterey Harbor.

Monterey Harbor. The big draw is Fisherman's Wharf, where you can take bay boat tours, go on whale-watching cruises, or join a fishing expedition (see listing on page 103). Restaurants and curio shops satisfy the hungry and the curious; several open-air fish stands display the freshly caught cousins of fish and shellfish you'll see at the aquarium.

Serious wildlife watchers (and those who want to avoid wharf congestion) should park in the lot at the Coast Guard Wharf. At the end of the wharf, a chain-link fence separates you from hundreds of lounging sea lions; look for sea otters in kelp along seawall. It's a pleasant walk along the abandoned railroad tracks of Shoreline Park to Fisherman's Wharf; there often a family of sea otters near the shore here, sometimes playing so close to the rocks that you can hear their puppy-like squeals. Monterey Peninsula beach parks

A block west of the Monterey Bay Aquarium, the coast becomes one long shoreline park. Rugged, wave-washed granite outcroppings shelter fine, white sand "pocket" beaches offering great tidepooling (living tidepool creatures cannot be coolected) around Point Pinos to Fan Shell Beach. This coast is ideal for leisurely walking, which is also the best way to spot the biggest variety of birds and marine mammals.

Pacific Grove Marine Gardens Park. Within walking distance of the aquarium, the park edges the lenth of Ocean View Boulevard. There's a delightful walking/jogging path with benches for enjoying rocky coast and bay views. Good tidepooling, so-so shore fishing; picnic facilities and rest rooms at Lover's Point. Kelp beds are popular scuba diving spots; good boat fishing beyond kelp. Linger here: in half a day, you may spot many of the birds and mammals shown on the map.

Asilomar SB. Conference grounds, beach undeveloped; 649-2836. Tidepools along rocky shore (groups can call ahead for guided walks); hike a mile south on firm, sandy Moss Beach to Point Joe.

Seventeen Mile Drive, Pebble Beach. Beach day use only, picnic areas, $4 entry fee per vehicle. Main entry gates for this private drive are at at State Highway 1, Pacific Grove, and Carmel (see map); public beach access only between Moss Beach and Fan Shell Beach. Bicyclists enter free but must sign a liability release; they're permitted all along road weekdays except during special events. The 9 miles between Pacific Grove and Carmel are mostly level and the most scenic, but narrow in places. On weekends before 11 A.M. you can bike only 3 miles between Pacific Grove gate and Bird Rock. Point Joe is a good whale overlook. At Bird Rock, feed quarters into telescopes for wildlife views. Carmel BAy and Point Lobos Beaches

The head of Carmel Canyon comes up close to Point Lobos, making this an especially popular destination for divers. Carmel City Beach at the foot of Ocean Avenue in Carmel draws legions of weekend visitors; follow Scenic Road around rocky Carmel Point (see map) to Carmel River State Beach for good birding and some elbow room.

Carmel River SB. Day use; 624-4909. Carmel River broadens into a reed-edged lagoon here with abundant shore and marsh birds (nature walks for groups on request). Walk or jog along the broad, yellow sand shore almost a mile to end of popular diving area of beach park called Monastery Beach.

Point Lobos State Reserve. Day use (9 to 5 in November), picnic area; $2 entry fee; 624-4909. Artist Francis McComas' appraisal of this rocky peninsula as "the greatest meeting of land and water Monterey cypress and abundant marine life, Point Lobos is also a must for students of nature.

Arrive early on weekends; because this is a reserve (no collecting, hikers must stay on trails), only 150 vehicls are permitted in the park and the limit is often reached before 11. You can park outside and walk or bike in.

Natuare walks on weekends (staff permitting) at 10:30 and 2: one usually goes around Whalers Cove to view marine life, another may be a hike among Monterey cypress on the Cypress Grove Trail (a good place to spot gray whales) or a stroll out to Pelican Point for a look at Bird Island. Walk to the tip of Seal Lion Point to see and hear the sunbathers on Sea Lion Rocks. The reserve is laced with hiking trails, most fringed with poison oak.

A small information station at the Cypress Grove trailhead has trail maps and touchable pelts sea lion, harbor seal, and sea otter (the softest, with 150,000 hairs per square inch). A corps of 55 docents helps rangers by staffing this station and leading nature walks or setting up spoting scopes you can peer through along shoreline trails. Help with area lodging

Monterey Peninsula Airport is served by six major and regional airlines. There is also scheduled bus service. The biggest challenge will be finding overnight accommodations on weekends. For a list of lodging choices, write to the Chamber of Commerce, Box 1770, Monterey 93942, or call (408) 649-1770. For last-minute help in finding a room, call (800) 822-8822 for Monterey and Pacific Grove, (408) 624-1711 for Carmel.
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Date:Nov 1, 1984
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