Saturday, July 24, 2010

Point Reyes National Seashore

Point Reyes National Seashore in California is an hour or so north of the Golden Gate Bridge. We recently took a vacation to San Francisco, and naturally I scheduled some time for my second visit to Point Reyes. The park is on the opposite side of the San Andreas Fault from the rest of the state. This would not be surprising to anyone who has looked at a map of the park. Millions of years ago it was by Los Angeles, and millions of years from now it will be in Alaska. Luckily for me, right now it is in Marin County.

Point Reyes National Seashore reminds me quite a bit of Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore in Michigan. They are both on huge bodies of water (the Pacific Ocean and Lake Superior), they both have cliffs that tower high above the water, they both have lighthouses, and they both have secluded beaches nestled between cliffs. The main difference is the plant life. Point Reyes is largely grassland and Pictured Rocks is largely forest. Also, there are large hills around Point Reyes, something you won’t find too much of in Michigan.

On my first visit in 1993, I only had a half day in the park. First I checked out the Bear Valley Visitor Center and walked the short Earthquake Trail. There is a fence along the trail that was split into two sections 16' apart by the 1906 earthquake.  The Point Reyes Lighthouse is a well-known landmark, so I made that my prime destination of the day. The location of the lighthouse is unusual in that you have to descend about 300 steps to get to it, presumably so it can be right at the edge of the cliff. The parking lot is some distance from the lighthouse, and you have to walk along the road to get there. Along the road are several trees that I assume to be cypress. As is usual for this part of the state, it was foggy that day. I got a nice photo of the trees and fog, which later won a local photography award.  I named the photo “The End of the World,” because that is what it really looked like. Interestingly, the fog cleared as I was at the lighthouse, and the trees just did not look the same on the way back. After checking out the North Beach, I drove to the Mount Vision lookout for a nice overview of the park and Pierce Ranch to check out the elk.

My recent visit was longer, with one full day (minus the drive from San Francisco) scheduled and the possibility of a second day. The second day was originally earmarked for visiting the John Muir National Historic Site in Martinez, but it turns out that it is closed on that day. So, the day became a contest between a second day at Point Reyes or a visit to Golden Gate Park in San Francisco. As you will see, the second day at Point Reyes won.

On the first day, we stopped at the Bear Valley Visitor Center and then stretched our legs on the Earthquake Trail. Then we drove up to Pierce Ranch to hike the Tomales Point Trail. The trail goes to the end of the point, which separates Tomales Bay from the Pacific Ocean. My wife did not want to hike the whole distance, so we decided to hike to the highest point for a 5-mile round trip. We think we did it, but it was hard to tell with the heavy fog. After finishing the hike and poking around the ranch, we went to nearby McClure's Beach. The trail through a canyon was beautiful, especially with flowers covering the canyon walls. At the end, the trail suddenly opened up to the ocean.

Next we visited the lighthouse. I was eagerly anticipating seeing the cypress trees again. They were still there. For kicks, I tried to duplicate my earlier photo from memory. I did a fairly good job with the composition, but the fog and light was just not the same. This one will not win any awards. On the way back up from the lighthouse I tried to walk up all 308 steps without stopping, but there was a section of ramp that was difficult and I had to stop to catch my breath. Maybe next time.

On the second day, we took the Bear Valley Trail from the visitor center to Arch Rock on the ocean. It was an 8-mile round-trip that was the easiest hike in the world. The trail was flat and wide and had no significant elevation changes until the very end. It was a nice walk through fields and forests and along little streams. The view at the end from atop Arch Rock was excellent, even with a touch of fog. I highly recommend this hike. For additional photographs, see my Flickr page.

My visits: June 1993, July 2010

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