Drakes Bay, Drakes Beach, Gray whales, Monterey cypress trees, Pacific Flyway path, Point Reyes Lighhouse, Point Reyes National Seashore, Salal plant, Sandpiper Inn, Stinson Beach California, Trentepohlia blue-algae
On Mondays we like to update you with our most recently completed project. That was our plan but we have been delayed in taking photos by rain and falling leaves.
So we will continue sharing places we visited in California. On the 3rd day of our trip while staying in a little cottage at the Sandpiper Inn in Stinson Beach, we headed up to Point Reyes National Seashore. I hadn’t been there in 25 years and it was Shawn’s first visit.
We were blessed with a clear sunny day with just a light breeze. This is very unusual since Point Reyes is know as one of the foggiest, windiest places on the Pacific Coast. During the rainy season storms blow in drenching the Inverness Ridge and then move across the Central valley of California and onto the Sierra Nevada mountain range where the rain turns to snow. During the warm dry months the combination of the cold water of the Pacific ocean (around 52 degrees F.) and the warm land mass creates a constant fog bank along the coast. If you look into the normal weather in San Francisco, which is just around the point to the right, it has a moderate climate rarely too hot, and seldom too cold with an average daily temperature of 62.5 degrees. In my experience some of the coldest days are in the summer when the famous thick fog rolls in and blocks out the sun and the damp chills you to your bones. Its rainy season is from November through March. The months of September and October are renowned for their balmy, fog free, sunny days. We were lucky and experienced that in late November.
We took the long road out to the light house. The views were stunning and the breeze was very slight. I wish I had brought some binoculars and not left my good camera at home. On the way out you drive though historic ranches. Franciscan missionaries and Mexican land grantees introduced ranching to the peninsula before the gold rush of 1849. If you have ever read the book Two Years Before the Mast by Richard Henry Dana, he describes in detail the cattle trade along the coast of California. This area reminded me of how desolate it must have look during his time as a sailor on a sailing ship sent to get cow hides to take back east. It is one of my favorite books on a slice of California history. The ranches are still operated, under federal leases, by descendents of the original families and are part of the living history of the headlands.
As you walk along the road to the lighthouse you walk by a stand of Monterey cypress trees. In the fall, birders with spotting scopes search these trees for birds resting as they migrate south. Point Reyes is on the Pacific Flyway path. In the distance you can see little white dots, those are boats and we saw a few birds but the mostly they take shelter away from people.
I have always loved the look of Monterey cypress, Cupressus macrocarpa. They are a medium-sized evergreen conifer. They become irregularly shaped often with a flattened top from years of growing in strong winds which are regular in the native habitats. This species of cypress are native to the Central Coast of California. They are now confined to two small relict populations, one at Cypress Point in Pebble Beach and the other at Point Lobos near Carmel. They do thrive outside their native range and you will find them planted along the coast of California and Oregon.
At the top of the hill we came upon the ranger station with a little museum. There is a lot of history to absorb here. I didn’t get a picture of the bay to the south from here because of the light reflecting off the water was to bright. We could see the Farallon Islands. There were several people with binoculars spotting whales. Gray whales pass the lighthouse on their journey south for calving in the bays of Baja California.
Looking down the cliff you can see the rocks and rough water. Making this a dangerous place for ships trying to get into the port of San Francisco during a storm or thick fog. It is on these cliffs that Common murres crowd the offshore rocks during nesting season in late spring. The birds share this point with California sea lions which were nearly hunted to extinction but now live in little pockets in remote areas along the coast. Treacherous currents and rock outcropping created the need for a lighthouse. All along the shoreline there have been shipwrecks dating from 1595 with the San Augustin to the Munleon in 1931. In the spring winds can reach hurricane force and have been measured at 130 mph at the headlands. The gold rush brought more demand for dairy products and hogs that were carried on schooners from the ranches north to the larger cities south making the need for a lighthouse more pressing as more traffic navigated the point. A lighthouse was commissioned in 1855 but land disputes and government obstacles delayed the building and it wasn’t opened and operating until December 1870, with a state of the art Fresnel lens from France. The bee hive shaped lens and clock works where used until 1975 when they were replaced with an automated beacon located in a separate building below the original lighthouse.
The Point Reyes Lighthouse, also known as Point Reyes Light or the Point Reyes Light Station, is a lighthouse in the Gulf of the Farallones on Point Reyes in Marin County, California, U.S.A. When we got back to our little cottage we borrowed a movie from the collection in the office on the Islands of the Farallones. The Farallon Islands, or Farallones (from the Spanish farallón meaning “pillar” or “sea cliff”), are a group of small islands and sea stacks that lie 30 miles outside the Golden Gate bridge and 20 miles south of Point Reyes. We were able to see them as they are visible from the mainland on clear days. They are said to be the Galapagos of California and the islands are now The Farallon National Wildlife Refuge. They are the nesting ground to several birds including some endangered species.
The history of this lighthouse alone makes it worth the trip. Equally the unique flora and fauna and but also geological formations draw visitors to this place. The rocks at Point Reyes are lifting up from the ocean floor and are a complex conglomerate of twisted and contorted sandstone embedded with cobbles, that washed out from rivers millions of years ago. This is combined with granite outcroppings, that give you a hint of the bedrock that the peninsula sits on. It made me wish I remembered more from the geology class I took years ago. There are some interesting rock plants that grow on these cliffs. One of my favorite plants was the rust colored algae that grows on the shadier sides of the cliff. The plaque said it is Trentepohlia, a blue-algae that has a large quantities of carotenoid pigment which masks the green of the chlorophyll.
Few things grow on this point because of the harsh influence of the ocean. The months of thick fog, the strong winds and salt spray make it quite inhospitable to plants and humans alike. There are stories of how hard it was to keep lighthouse keepers and how some were driven to drink. How they had to trod up and down the cliff and were nearly blown off from gale force winds. With the plants it is no different and they have to be tough to live here. What does survive along with the algae is ice plant, lichens and a small plant called Salal, with a lovely green leave that makes it home in depressions and crevices. The hills are covered with native and imported grasses and these are joined in April and May with a profusion wild flowers like Douglas iris, Checkerbloom, seaside daisy, Indian paintbrush and a profusion of yellow bush lupines.
On our way back to Stinson Beach we stopped for a late lunch at the Farm House Restaurant right at the turn off leading to Samuel P. Taylor state park where we took a little tour. It was the location of a lumber mill and is now a protected stand of redwoods. Then back to a quiet evening at our cottage that was close enough to the beach to hear the waves. We highly recommend Stinson beach on the edge of Bolinas bay. It is a peaceful beach village perfect for a quiet getaway. And it is driving distance to so many beautiful places as it sits on part of Highway 1 called The Shoreline Highway. I do imagine we will be back.