I probably would not turn such a small subject area into a blog post at all if we didn’t come across one of the top wildflower hikes I have ever been on. Actually both of the 8 mile round trip hikes we took in the Point Reyes National Seashore were exceptional and worthy of sharing. But first let me back up to how we found ourselves there. I’m a big Lord of the Rings fan, so for my birthday, my wife got me tickets to see the San Jose Symphony orchestra perform the live soundtrack to the Lord of the Rings movies. It was pretty cool, they had a big screen and a special edition of the film with the music and singing parts removed, but the rest of the sound intact. The symphony was so spot on that I often forgot they were playing live, except that somehow the emotional intensity of the movie was amped up a notch. Anyhow, since we were going to be in the Bay Area in spring, I remembered photographing fields of iceplant in bloom near Pigeon Point lighthouse and decided I would check it out. From there we would work our way up the coast for a couple of days, ending up near Mt. Shasta so I could kayak a section of the Pit river that had a nice 30 foot waterfall on it, which normally doesn’t run except that they were doing maintenance on the powerhouse turbine, so water was actually flowing down the river for a change.
Well, long story short, it was foggy every day we were on the coast, and the day we were packing up to head to the Pit, they finished repairs on the turbine ahead of schedule and de-watered the river once again. So I spent a lot of time playing with my B+W 10 stop neutral density filter, trying to make interesting shots of water in motion, since the flat grey skies rendered everything mostly uninteresting. I also chose to wait until after sunset at the lighthouse to use a higher ISO and the mist off the ocean to render the lighthouse beam. The iceplant did not disappoint and if we had scored a nice warm pacific sunset, it would have been a worthy picture. But as a consolation prize, we did get to see a seal pup being born right off the lighthouse deck. The mother seal spent about an hour coaxing the newborn, placenta still attached at this point, up onto the rocks to warm up.
Back to Point Reyes! We camped in the Samuel P Taylor state park nearby and drove in. One day we went to Bolinas to check out the hotsprings that are only accessible at extremely low tide, but as advertised, they were crowded with hippies and, novelty of being right on the ocean aside, don’t hold a candle to the ones near Mammoth Mountain. Since we were in Bolinas, we took Mesa drive up to the bird observatory and beyond and hiked the 4.2 miles in to Alamere Falls. This was a spectacular hike, with great ocean views and a wide, easily graded trail. We even saw a guy pushing a stroller about 3 miles out. However, once it branches off the main trail and heads the nearly 1 mile to the falls, the trail is overgrown, has a lot of poison oak and a fairly technical scramble to get to the upper falls. The upper falls come from a small creek into a wide bench, and from the bench, tumbles over a cliff about 50 feet or more onto a secluded beach. To reach the beach is a legitimate class III, hands mandatory scramble down loose rock with severe consequences if you fall. That said, I made it carrying a giant camera backpack and a tripod, so it can’t be that bad. To see high-quality versions of these images and many more, or for image licensing please search through my online photo archive.
Our next hike, which is probably one of the top 5 wildflower hikes in California, was the Tomales Point Hike. This absolutely spectacular hike starts from the historic Pierce Ranch on the complete opposite side of the park from above hike. From the Pierce Ranch, follow the easily marked trail 4.7 miles out to Tomales Point where Tomales Bay meets Drakes Bay in a stew of tumultuous waters. Along the way there were non-stop fields of purple irises, some form of yellow lupine, waist-high fields of white and blue wild radish flowers, and near the end, golden California poppies. And when there weren’t enough flowers to hold your interest, the area is a Tule Elk reserve, and the critters were all over the place rutting and grazing and just staring at us. The final show stopper is that, instead of ending in a cliff at the point as I expected, a small trail winds down to sea level at the end, though if you get swept off by the unpredictable waves in this area, there’s no saving you. Ocean views are nearly constant and we only saw a few other people once we got more than a few miles out, and that on a Friday.
Spring time is when the female elephant seals spend a few months on shore molting and birthing. It is called a catastrophic molt, and if you look closely at the skin of many of the seals in the picture, they look like burn victims, with the skin peeling off. But once they scratch their old hides off and the last of the young are birthed, it is out to sea till next season. The elephant seals can be easily seen from a short hike out to Chimney Rock, or the Point Reyes Lighthouse. The lighthouse also has the best views of the spectacular 11-mile long Point Reyes Beach. We hiked out there our last day, in 50 mph winds which made the blowing sand feel like shotgun pellets, but the wind parted the fog for a bit giving us our closest thing to a sunset all trip.