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Some of the finest tidepools in Orange County — indeed in all of Southern California — await you on this short, absorbing, and possibly time-consuming walk north of Crystal Cove State Beach. Successful "tidepooling" requires both good light (midafternoon is best) and minus tides. These conditions are satisfied near the time of either new or full moon during the late fall and early winter. Tide levels will reach -1 foot or less on the following dates and times during the remainder of 2001:

  • Wednesday, November 14, 2:45 p.m.

  • Thursday, November 15, 3:28 p.m.

  • Friday, November 16, 4:11 p.m.

  • Saturday, December 1, 3:52 p.m.

  • Sunday, December 2, 4:35 p.m.

  • Thursday, December 13, 2:42 p.m.

  • Friday, December 14, 3:22 p.m.

  • Saturday, December 15, 4:01 p.m.

  • Sunday, December 30, 3:43 p.m.

  • Monday, December 31, 4:25 p.m.

Plan to start your walk about an hour before the predicted low tide. Wear an old pair of rubber-soled shoes or boots, and expect to get wet below the ankles. You can start either at Little Corona City Beach near the intersection of Ocean Boulevard and Poppy Avenue in Corona Del Mar, or from the northernmost parking area in Crystal Cove State Park. Along the stretch of coast in between, beachfront private property extends only to the mean high-tide line; public passage is permitted below.

The rock formations in the tidepools and the nearby cliffs are thinly bedded shales, gently tilted and locally contorted, dating back about 12 million years. In most but not all places in the intertidal zone, this rock affords good traction even when wet. You'll pass two picturesque sea stacks just offshore, both pierced by wave action. The northern of the two is named Arch Rock, but either could just as well have been called Bird Rock for the ever-present pelicans and other avian life.

In the intertidal strip itself, a few dozen steps from high-tide to low-tide level encompass a complete spectrum of marine plants and animals adapted to the various degrees of inundation and exposure. In the high intertidal zone, hardy species like periwinkle snails, limpets, mussels, barnacles, and green sea anemones can be found. Some of these creatures are adapted to survival in habitats moistened only by the splash of breaking waves. Shore crabs patrol these bouldered spaces, but they're likely to be hiding when you're looking for them.

Closer to the surf, the middle intertidal zone features the rock depressions called tidepools, and luxuriant growths of surfgrass, which look like bright, shiny green mats of long-bladed grass. The tidepools serve as refuges for mobile animals like fish, shrimp, and the sluglike sea hare, as well as some of the relatively immobile animals like urchins and various shellfish. Here the effects of biological erosion (or weathering) are apparent in the many pits and cubbyholes in the rocks occupied by various creatures.

In the low intertidal zone, many kinds of seaweed thrive, including the intriguing sea palm. Animal life, however, is usually concealed amid the submerged rocks. You may discover sea stars, sea urchins, sponges, worms, chitons, snails, abalones, and hermit crabs. If you're very lucky, an octopus may come your way. Remember that all marine life, shells, and rocks are legally protected.

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