Hiking with Manta Rays

Having lived in the San Francisco Bay Area for more than a decade in the 80’s and 90’s and revisiting annually ever since we left in 1992, we thought we had discovered all of its hidden charms. Ha!

The Golden Hills of California as seen from Alviso Marina County Park

During our meanderings with our new “we’re-not-in-any-hurry-to-get-anywhere-or-do-anything-attitude” we stumbled upon Alviso Marina County Park, located at the very bottom of the San Francisco Bay on the north end of San Jose. Typically we prefer hikes with a modicum of shade. Well, being that this park features trails along salt marshes and sprawling views of the marina, shade was not an option. So one of us, we won’t say who (Kimberly) took off a just before sunset, not wanting to be in the searing sun, with her camera on a leisurely stroll.

It didn’t take long to get distracted by the views that make you feel like you are nowhere near civilization. It is easy to pretend you are nowhere near the hustle and bustle of a major metropolis, even though you can see the Dumbarton Bridge and other famous Bay Area landmarks off in the distance.

And then there were all of the birds that call the marina home. Swans, egrets, terns, oodles of pigeons and many others that we are learning to identify. All fascinating to watch. Top that off with the setting sun casting a symphony of colors and perhaps you can understand why reading signs about the trail closing a certain times was not a top priority nor was it even seemingly relevant to make a note of trail lengths.

And then it happened. Something splashing in the water, seen out of the corner of her eye. Was it a fish jumping? No, there was no concentric circle that occurs after a fish splash. A diving bird? No, they were everywhere but none surfaced nearby. Wait, there it goes again. A glimpse of two parallel swooshes, like the tips of a dolphin or shark fin. But two of them side by side? In shallow water? That can only be a manta ray!! How many times have you ever been out hiking and seen a manta ray? Unreal. Of course she tried to get pictures but they were barely visible in the murky water.

Manta Ray in Alviso Marina County Park
Stealthy Manta Ray swimming (or is it flying under water?) next to the trail.
Note the two cloud trails left by it’s flapping “wings”.

At the same time she spied the manta rays and was squealing with delight, Dennis called her from the RV to let her know he was being informed that he would have to move the vehicle in half an hour as the park was closing. And oh, by the way, the trail is also closing and there is a fine if you are on the trail after 8:15 pm. Uhhhh, now we have a little problem as the person who shall remain nameless (Kimberly) is about 4 miles out on the trail surrounded by water, the sun is going down and it is now 7:45 pm. But…manta rays!!!

Though not having run or jogged anywhere in months, let alone while loaded down with camera equipment, she reluctantly ripped herself away from the Manta Rays and tried her best to ignore the diving terns, the spectacular setting sun and hightailed it back to the RV as quick as her legs would carry her. Yes, she ran about 4 miles, only stopping long enough to catch her breath. Fifty-two minutes later she narrowly escaped getting locked behind an impassible gate, and made it back to the RV avoiding a fine. Though she’d have probably wouldn’t have complained about spending a night with the wildlife that kept begging her to stop running and take their pictures.

Be advised, the gate to the trail locks at Sunset.

The next day, she talked Dennis into joining her on an early morning stroll. We both spied the manta ray and were greeted by a blue heron who happily posed for the camera, unlike the elusive manta ray. And screamed at by the territorial Forster’s Terns.

Alviso Marina County Park is frequented by bike riders, walkers, joggers and kayakers. During non-Covid times they offer an education boat tour. We’ll be back.

If you go, keep an eye out for these critters listed on iNaturalist plus the manta rays.

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