Friday, January 4, 2013

Point Reyes National Seashore at the start of the year

One of my favorite getaway spots ever is Tomales Point, the northern end of Point Reyes National Seashore on the Marin County coast. The visitor's center at Point Reyes is about an hour's drive from where I live, and Tomales Point is another half-hour from there. Each of the many times I've been over a long stretch of years I marvel that a place that feels as wild as Point Reyes does is so easily and quickly reached from San Francisco or the East Bay (it's not really wild: there are too many roads and trails and chemical toilets and pay phones to qualify).

I drove out to the coast yesterday, drawn by a need to hear the pounding surf as much as anything else. I don't think I'd been out to Point Reyes in all of 2012, sad to say.

The Tomales Point Trail overlooks steep cliffs and the narrow strands of beach below them. The surf is treacherous, there are rip currents galore, and "sneaker waves" -- infrequent and irregular waves that reach far beyond the  point that seems to be the furthest inland that the tide-of-the-moment extends -- can be lethal. In fact, stopping in San Rafael on my way out to the coast yesterday, I saw headlines in the newsracks warning of three deaths caused by sneaker waves in the past week alone.

The beaches are lonely, lovely, and steeped in a sense of the sea's seemingly limitless power.

I know no better place to put life in perspective.

As you can see in the photo at left, from the top of the cliffs of Tomales Point, the beaches below are more or less inaccessible. For the determined, however, the key phrase is "more or less." Where there's a will...

And yet.

I didn't make my way down yesterday.

But at a particular cut in the cliffs, where a gully has deepened over centuries into a cleft, I've scrambled many times, alone or with a friend, down the steep deer-paths and onto the sandy stone that leads to a magnificently empty stretch of beach. When the tide is low enough, one can go even further south, over a low rock spit, to an even more remote strand. I've often had those hundreds of yards of coast all to myself, and marveled that this could be so some thirty or forty miles from San Francisco. On a clear day you can see the Farallon Islands, thirty miles out into the Pacific, etched sharp against the horizon.

Here's the view from where I lingered for the longest while yesterday, sitting on a boulder embedded in the hillside. The surf's crash rose -- after an odd second's delay for the sound to reach my perch -- as majestically, if not as loudly, as one hears from the beach itself.

I'd arrived late enough that I didn't want to take the time to make the climb down and up again. Moreover, the hills were soaked and the ground loose from recent storms. Climbing down would have done ugly damage to the hillside, and the prospect of slipping and breaking a wrist or a leg didn't seem attractive on such a lovely day in such a beautiful place...

Tomales Point is also an elk reserve.

The native-Californian tule elk that live on the Point now were rendered nearly extinct in the nineteenth century, but conservation efforts over the course of some thirty five years have established hundreds of the imposing animals on the reserve, and smaller free-ranging herds elsewhere in Point Reyes. I saw three separate clusters of the animals yesterday, all females except for one group of thirty or so over which a magnificent bull presided. The view was much better through my 8x binoculars, but here's the best I could do, with my little point-and-shoot Fujiflex, of the bull up on a distant ridge:

Can you make out the antlers on the elk standing about a third of the way from the right edge of the photo? Click on the image for a larger view.

On the way back to 'civilization' I stopped at the next beach south, Kehoe, because McClure's beach, at the base of Tomales Point, was inaccessible due to a mudslide on the trail.

I have a rule about visiting the ocean: it's not a real visit unless I touch the water. Not get in for a swim necessarily:

But I had to dip fingers or toes in the waves washing up on the beach before I could call my day complete. (The sign above reads: "Surfing, wading, and swimming not advised. Shark area, strong undertows, currents and sneaker waves. Enter at your own risk." Just sayin' ...)

It was nearly sunset. No pelicans, but plenty of seagulls and sandpipers.

All in all, a fine day at the head of a year.

Wishing all my readers the best in 2013...

Related posts on One Finger Typing:

Taking the coast road north from Santa Cruz
Pacific coast watersheds
Mental floss


  1. Wonderful. We were in Inverness for New Years and headed to the lighthouse and South Beach. Such an amazing area.