Crystal Cove

Crystal Cove. The name alone evokes an image of tranquility and nourishment for the mind and soul.
I’d heard of this place for years from my friend Cinda. She used to live in Crystal Cove, a beach village where people owned the cottages, but a company owned the land.

Ready to catch a wave
Ready to catch a wave

As a child in the mid-1940s, Cinda and her family house-sat at one of the beach cottages. Within a few years, her grandmother had purchased one for the family to use. Cottage #6. From then on, Cinda spent all summer, every summer, at Crystal Cove.
After she married, she and her husband had the opportunity to live full time in the family cottage. His work took them away, but eventually it brought them back. And she lived there until 2001 when the state, which had purchased the land, evicted all residents. Not without a fight, but the end result was her home was gone.
The state created a new California State Park, called Crystal Cove, and rehabbed some of the cottages to use as rentals. Though Cinda had to leave her home, it is not – at least not yet – one of the cottages the state has chosen to rehab.

Cinda's old home
Cinda’s old home

While in southern California, we had the opportunity to rent one of the beach cottages because a family had to cancel their reservation. And we were joined by two of her friends – one an old friend whose family beach cottage, Cottage #11, also sits empty and not rehabbed, and the other an old friend who was once Cinda’s roommate in Cottage #6.
The three women had been back to Crystal Cove, but none had found the opportunity to spend a night.

Front porch, and there's a reflection of Cinda gazing at the ocean
Front porch, and there’s a reflection of Cinda gazing at the ocean

Years ago, when Cinda and her friends were there, the hill behind the cove was covered in grass and cattle rather than the McMansions of today. Then, the occasional deer could be seen on the beach. And once a bobcat was spotted.

Tidepools at Crystal Cove
Tidepools at Crystal Cove

We had one day and one night to be in Crystal Cove, the day and night just before the full moon. And although it had been somewhat cool, often overcast, and sometimes rainy for the eight days we’d spent in Mission Viejo, the morning of our visit to Crystal Cove dawned clear and bright.
And it only got better. Warm, breezy, sparkly clear. It could not have been more perfect.
We arrived early enough to have beach time and a great lunch in the beachside restaurant before we checked into our cottage. #18, up on the hill, overlooking the whole beach and cottages below. Including Cinda’s old cottage.
Crystal Cove. Wide open sea, and twenty-six miles straight out our door, Santa Catalina Island.

Santa Catalina Island in the background
Santa Catalina Island in the background

Crystal Cove. Tide pools with starfish clinging to the undersides of huge rocks.


Crystal Cove. Large rocks covered with mussels, and when the word is spoken aloud, gives a whole new meaning to the term “muscle beach.”

Muscle Beach - I mean Mussel Beach!!!!
Muscle Beach – I mean Mussel Beach!!!!

Crystal Cove. Dolphins gliding along the coastline.

Yeah, not the ones I saw at Crystal Cove - but I was so busy watching those I didn't take a picture!
Yeah, not the ones I saw at Crystal Cove – but I was so busy watching those I didn’t take a picture!

We had an afternoon of sun and beach. Time for shorts and tank tops. Scouring the sea for evidence of whales. Searching the water for dolphins. Laughing and talking. Looking at old photos. Me, feeling a bit like the interloper, listening to stories of old times on the beach.
All this was followed by an evening of sunset and wine. And more stories.
Cinda and I were up before dawn, sitting on the porch wrapped in sleeping bags and blankets. The silvery moon was a few hours shy of full and slowly turned to gold as it eased into the Pacific.







Old friends watch the sunset
Old friends watch the sunset

Crystal Cove lived up to its name, and to my hopes for it.




Today we thought it was supposed to be cool and rainy, so we’d sort of planned to stay in awhile and do a few things close to the house. Then, dawn. The sky was not overcast, so we went into overdrive. Ventura, home of Camino Real Park, is home to thousands of wintering monarchs.

Cinda bravely battled freeway traffic on The 5. Anyone who knows southern California knows this is one busy freeway, especially at rush hour. And we hit it at 6:45.

The 5 to the 405. Zip along. Come to a halt. Repeat. Finally beyond LA the traffic thinned a bit, then onto the 101 to Ventura.

We carefully followed the instructions to Camino Real Park and were surprised that it was located inside an old subdivision. A real neighborhood park, with trails, tennis courts, a snack shack.

What we didn’t see was a cloud of monarchs, even though the information we had said there could be around 20,000 of them.

We stopped a man out walking his dog and asked about the butterflies. He pointed to a small cluster of trees and assured us they were over there, but, he cautioned, the weather was so cool they may not be out.

We headed over to the trees. Not a monarch in sight.

Then, one of the pine tree’s cones moved. A needle swayed. The needle opened to orange and black.

I had been looking but not seeing. Watching but overlooking. The old ponderosa was covered in monarchs!


As I stood there the sun moved the temperature up just one tiny notch, enough to warm the butterflies enough to begin to move.


One floated across the grass to another tree. Another flitted from branch to branch. The ponderosa came alive.

Some were so high I could barely see them. None came to lower branches.

Then, the miraculous. Two on the ground. Engaging in monarch sex.


Monarchs often mate for an hour or more. Apparently these two didn’t mind my voyeurism. The continued their butterfly exhibitionism for about ten minutes after I noticed them, and suddenly they parted, fluttering off different directions.


Afterwards we stopped in at a local Peet’s for coffee. Cinda remarked to the barista that the drive north had been a bit crazy, first speeding then stopping. “Yep,” she responded. “Out here on freeways it’s ninety or nothing.”

Ninety or nothing. We braved it all for monarchs.


Morning Walk

I am up before dawn. Well, well before dawn. I step outside into morning chill to see the 7/8 moon nearly midway in her path across the sky.

I stay outside, arms tight across myself to ward off the cold. Does that really help? To hug oneself against cold? But it is how I stand as I look out to black sea and black sky, and listen to the gentle waves at low tide. Soon, however, I feel too cold to stand outside. I head back in where I can still hear the waves through windows that do not snug closed.

Yesterday morning was much warmer due to heavy cloud cover. Those clouds lasted most of the day, scattering in mid afternoon and stretching across western and southern skies at sunset, turning blue to streaks of mango and raspberry.

I did my regular morning walk with a friend, pausing as always for a cup of coffee or tea at the restaurant operated by my friend Roberto. It has become a morning ritual: walk, coffee, conversations with Roberto in my broken Spanish. And then the walk home for a bean burrito breakfast.

Roberto cooking breakfast.
Roberto cooking breakfast.

Occasionally I breakfast with Roberto. Huevos rancheros, always. But yesterday I came home, had my burrito, and headed out for another walk, a beach walk, with four friends.

Returning fishermen
Returning fishermen

Beach full of gulls and pelicans. Fishermen bringing in the day’s catch.

Checking the day's catch.
Checking the day’s catch.

And beach strewn with bodies of pelicans and boobies. Fairly fresh bodies. Some not yet scavenged. The blue footed boobie lives on Alcatraz, the island just offshore. But on this day, their bodies were scattered across the beach. What had happened for so many birds to lose their lives in such a short period of time?

I don’t know how long I’d expected to walk. But we talked, laughed, and took photos long enough to find we’d walked all the way to the estuary where we dodged dogs irritated at having their morning snooze interrupted. Gave thanks to the Virgin for escaping the dogs’ ire.

We headed home down the estuary road. Osprey filled the air. It is the season of nest building. Osprey circling overhead. Osprey carrying brush to nest. Osprey fornicating in a tree. I used my friend’s shoulder to steady my camera when shooting zoom.

Female ospry - aguila del mar
Female ospry – aguila del mar

Down the road, past the fishermen’s shrine.

Shrine for the fishermen
Shrine for the fishermen

Back toward town past the barrio scheduled for late summer demolition. Past the stand with fresh clams and past the muelle, or pier. Past beach houses sprinkled with “for sale” signs. Back to Islanda.