Point Reyes National Seashore
I’ve been to Point Reyes National Seashore many times, it’s one of my all time favorite places to hike – Tomales Point Trail. In all my visits, I had never been there on a day where the lighthouse was open. Usually, it depends entirely on the weather, the wind, whether or not you can take the trek down the 300+ model thin stairs to even get down there and scope out the lighthouse.
Well, today the lighthouse was open!
For those unfamiliar with Point Reyes, in 1962 President Kennedy established the area as a National Seashore. Some might remember the location from the 1980 movie “The Fog”. Sir Francis Drake landed here in 1579 (Yes, 400 years before I was born), and in 1850, lured by the near ideal conditions, Dairy ranchers arrived with their cows and kind of took over. There are still several operational dairies on the Point, so while you travel the roads to various spots you do have to watch for random loose cows milling about on the road.
We headed down the 300+ stairs, truly a feat of engineering brilliance with its two-way traffic. Not. Going down was relatively easy if you don’t think too much about it, until you actually get down to the platform and find there is no place to stretch out your arching calves.
On this particular day, there was a docent inside the lighthouse with tons of trivia and information for us.
The lighthouse was built in 1870. According to the site: Point Reyes is the windiest place on the Pacific Coast and the 2nd foggiest place on in North America. I would believe that! ( http://www.nps.gov/pore )
According to the Docent, there are 1040 prisms, which are still in working condition to this day. He explained how each piece of the light (the prisms) was brought over from France, and then told a story about Clint Eastwood being shipwrecked for real (apparently, before his movie career), saving crewmates, and being saved himself in Drake’s Bay. Google didn’t offer much on this story, so I’m not sure if it is true, or if it’s just a fun story.
In 1975, after 105 years of operation, the original lighthouse was retired. They installed this little automated gem (in the picture, the “lighthouse” is the little boxy thing on the roof). After that the ownership of the lighthouse was transferred to the National Park Service.
We ran into a traffic jam on the way back up the hefty staircase. Near the top, congestion was due to people watching the ocean intently. Once we got up there, we learned why. A young gray whale had made his way into the bay and was splashing around near the rocks. Whales travel in pods, so i’m sure he was not by himself, but he was the only one in sight.
Google sez, Gray Whales migrate between Mexico to Alaska each year and are generally seen between April and May. So, it’s September, I think this little guy may have been a migration back to the warmer waters.
As we walked back to the car, we had a pair of Buck’s cross our path. These guys jumped up the side of a hill, crossed the road, and continued up the other side of the hill. (A why’d the buck cross the road joke seems appropriate here… but I got nothing)
We also saw a few white Tule Elk near the side of the road, as we were leaving the seashore. Seeing 3 bucks together is rather unusual, these guys don’t generally hang out together at Tomales Point. We have seen them in herds called “harems” and most have one male and 30-40 female.
Tomales Point Trail is also the Tule Elk Reserve, and most times of the year you are guaranteed some wildlife. This trail is roughly 10 miles roundtrip, pleasant, not too steep, not a lot of elevation gain, and as i said, it’s good place to see wild life.
Point Reyes also offers Harbor Seals, Northern Elephant Seals, and Sea Lions, but we didn’t see any of these fellows this trip. The Elephant Seal males arrive in December, and the pregnant females follow. They stay from December to March and can be observed from Chimney Rock. (During that time, there is a Docent packed with info out there too)
The only real downside to visiting Point Reyes for me is actually getting there. It does take some effort, from where we live it can be anywhere between 2-3 hours (depending on who is driving!) but if you’re willing – it’s well worth the effort.