Press Releases

Point Reyes Provides a True Coastal Adventure

By MARTA YAMAMOTO Special to the Planet
Friday July 30, 2004

Does your soul yearn for the Scottish Highlands? Or perhaps to walk the wind-swept moors, or along rugged coastal trails, expansive sky above and endless ocean at your side? If these pictures are not in your immediate future, a more than satisfactory substitute is just an hour away—the Point of Kings. 

Point Reyes National Seashore is 65,000 acres of varied landscapes: open land of coastal scrub and grassy meadows, fresh and salt-water marshes, forests of Douglas fir and Bishop pines and miles of sandy beaches and promontories above crashing waves. Life abounds on land, in the sea and in the air. Spring wildflowers, breeding elephant seals and migrating California gray whales share the park with resident mammals, birds, and tide-pool denizens. Opportunities for viewing wildlife are many. 

Such richness cannot be appreciated in just one day. This article will highlight the northern area of the park—a hike through Pierce Point Ranch and the Tule Elk Preserve and an afternoon spent at McClure’s or Kehoe Beach. Later articles will cover other park areas and wildlife viewing opportunities. 

For an overview of Point Reyes’ geology, flora, and fauna, there is no better place to start than the Bear Valley Visitor Center. In this 7,600-square-foot barn-like structure of weathered gray wood highlighted with red trim you’ll find helpful, informative rangers, exhibits, and interpretive displays highlighting the Point Reyes environment, its discovery, and the Coast Miwok Indian culture. Pick up trail guides, check the daily postings on nature programs, watch Something Special, an orientation film, and visit the gift shop for books, posters, and other park memorabilia. 

On a recent visit my wildlife viewing began right outside, at the picnic area across the road. Gray squirrels played tag around tall pines and oaks shading well-spaced picnic tables while hawks and ravens soared overhead, piercing the quiet with their cries. 

Your drive to Pierce Point Ranch takes you through the small towns of Inverness and Inverness Park, both good places to stop for a pre-hike snack or to stock up on picnic supplies. As you drive north you’ll pass a mix of open land and historic dairy farms amid sepia-colored native grasses, muted green coastal scrub, and hearty wildflowers in season: orange monkey flower, yellow lupine, and orange California poppy. 

The 22,000-acre Pierce Point Ranch was established in 1858 as a premium dairy ranch, the only independently owned and operated dairy in Point Reyes. Today just the restored ranch buildings remind us of its past. As you walk among the stark white bunkhouse, old and new dairy, the ranch house and massive hay barn, it’s easy to imagine the loneliness of life here at the tip of nowhere. 

The trail to the Tule Elk Preserve begins here. Cervus elaphus nannodes is a subspecies of elk native to California. These majestic animals once numbered in the thousands, but the ubiquitous combination of hunting and habitat loss brought them close to extinction by 1860. In Point Reyes, the elk have a protected haven of open grassland and coastal scrub to roam and graze freely. What began in 1978 as a herd of 17 now numbers over 500. 

The trail to Tomales Point is 4.7 miles each way, but the elk are usually visible less than one mile from the trailhead. The length of your hike should depend on how you want to spend the day. If you’re ready for a day-long spectacular walk, a la Scottish moors, head to the point. If your plans include a visit to the beach, determine how much hiking and viewing time you have as a guide for how far along the trail you’ll go.  

Spectacular sights surround you as soon as your boots hit the trail. The Pacific Ocean in colors of cerulean-blue and aquamarine against white waves breaking on the shores of unreachable beaches below tall, rough cliffs. Multi-hued, four-petaled flowers and seedpods on coastal scrub: pastels in pale pinks, yellows and blues. Raptors riding the wind currents, tipping their wings from side to side as the sun highlights the tips of their feathers, gently gliding as they follow the contour of the land.  

As the level trail starts to head down and a large hill looms ahead, look to the right. You’ll see a meadow with Tomales Bay and Hog Island in the background. It’s common to see a group of 15 to 20 elk here, mostly cows and calves, at their ease, grazing or resting, their senses alert, but not wary. The key to wildlife viewing is time and patience. Find the elks’ comfort zone—the distance from which you can observe without invading their space, forcing them to move away—and watch. Using binoculars will increase your viewing detail. Similar groups of elk can be viewed at numerous points along the trail, all the way to Tomales Point. 

On your return, take the time to visit one of the natural outcrops that dot the landscape. Sit for a while with lichen coated stones and low growing wildflowers at your feet. Emulate an owl, turning your head in every direction. Wherever you look, you’ll find something worth looking at. This is an ideal spot to savor the peace while you marvel at this wonderful resource so close to home, appreciating the luxury of being at one with nature with time to gather your thoughts while absorbing the life all around. You may find it difficult to leave this tranquil spot at the end of the earth, especially with the distant drone of bagpipes just beyond reach. 

Beach time is the perfect ending for a great day. McClure’s Beach is just down the road from Pierce Point Ranch. A short, steep trail leads down to a sandy cove with large rock formations at either end. The surf here is intense, too dangerous for swimming or wading, but beautiful nonetheless. Four miles south on Pierce Point Road is Kehoe Beach, equally scenic. A half-mile level trail along a marsh and over sand dunes reveals a wide, mile long, driftwood strewn beach, with milder surf. Both beaches are great environments for an afternoon of beach activities 

Point Reyes—fit for a king. Spend a day among its jewels.