Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Point Reyes National Seashore: Tomales Point

October 27, 2013


  • Bob Dylan -- Desire
  • Pearl Jam -- Lightning Bolt
I've been planning a trip out to Point Reyes for over a month.  I've had to put it off due to the government fiasco and one or two other things that have come up.  The elk are in rut in September and October, which makes it an interesting time to visit the Tule Elk Reserve out on Tomales Point.

White Gulch, Point Reyes National Seashore, CA
It turns out I caught the tail end of the whole rut thing.  The harems look like they've all been established.  There was no fighting or even any bugling.  It was a little disappointing in that sense.  However, I got as close as I've ever been--or particularly want to be--in the wild and I got a ton of pictures that I am happy with, not to mention I enjoyed a beautiful hike through one of my favorite places, so all in all it worked out just fine.

Tomales Point, Point Reyes National Seashore, CA
Pierce Ranch
The hike across the elk reserve starts at Pierce Ranch and ends four and a half miles North on the tip of Tomales Point.  It's a relatively easy hike with a couple of small hills.  There's a pond about three miles out and I had decided that would be my destination.  I've hiked out to the end of the trail before and it's pretty cool, but I'd have to race the sun to pull that off on this trip and I wanted to take my time and try to get some good pictures of the animals and scenery.

Northern Harrier -- Point Reyes National Seashore, CA
The first group of elk I saw was at White Gulch, which is about a half mile into the hike.  The elk were pretty far off and there are signs there asking people to stay on the trail, so viewing the elk wasn't very interesting.  The docent there said he estimated there were about forty elk.  He also told me he'd seen about a dozen males up at the pond.  I didn't spend a long time there since the elk were too far off to get good pictures and headed up the trail.  I soon spotted a northern harrier, which I'd end up spending a good amount of energy on trying to get a good picture of.  That rascal never was still for long.  He was hunting a certain area, though, so I got a few chances at him.

Tule Elk -- Point Reyes National Seashore, CA
I encountered the second group of elk about a mile up the trail.  They caught me off guard.  I had gone off the trail in search of the harrier, and when I turned around I saw them coming up over the hill on the other side of the trail.  What a rush!  They hadn't been there fifteen minutes before when I'd gone after that darned bird, and they were walking right toward me.  Of course, I panicked a bit.  I had no place to go.  I moved back to the trail at a bit of an angle, as if the brown strip of dirt would provide some type of protection.

Tule Elk -- Point Reyes National Seashore, CA
The elk stopped and stood around for a bit.  They were standing maybe thirty yards away from me.  I could easily hear them snorting and breathing over the sound of the wind and surf.  I was excited to be so close.  Then they turned and started heading for the trail.  My trail.  My only protection.  Crikey.

Tule Elk -- Point Reyes National Seashore, CA
They wandered off down the hill and I went on my way.  I was still catching glimpses of the harrier now and then.  I was also able to watch a few red-tailed hawks as the rode the winds blowing in from the ocean.  They're able to stay basically in one place when the winds blows hard, which it always seems to do out here on the Point.  I didn't see any more elk until I got to the pond.

Tule Elk -- Point Reyes National Seashore, CA
The Old Man
There were about two dozen male elk down at the watering hole.  I think I recognized last year's King of the Pond.  He had a proud air about him, but obviously had lost his mojo with the ladies.  Happens to the best of us.  He was The Man last year, though.  The other bulls wouldn't even look at him.  If he stood up, they turned and faced the other direction.  I was a little late to see this sort of carrying on, I guess.

I sat down by the side of the trail and had a little snack with the elk.  I had to sit carefully, that place is covered with poison oak.  It wasn't the most exciting food, just a chocolate chip Cliff Bar, but there's something about just stopping and letting the quiet air get a hold of you.  As I settled in, the elk went on about their business.  I could hear them chewing on the grass.  I watched them eat and I watched the vultures and crows flying around and for a moment I got that fleeting sense of timelessness that you can only get in places like this, and only once you've stopped doing anything at all but breath.

Tule Elk -- Point Reyes National Seashore, CA
As I got up to leave the sun broke through the clouds and the field was suddenly glowing in the light.  I was back in photographer mode.  It's amazing how a scene can change in look so quickly.  I don't think this is something I'd have even noticed a few years ago.  I shot a few more pictures and then started heading back down the trail.

Tule Elk -- Point Reyes National Seashore, CA
I didn't see a lot of elk on the walk back.  Instead, I watched the light show going on out over the ocean as beams of light fought their way through the clouds.  It was quite a show.

Tomales Point, Point Reyes National Seashore, CA
It's tough to beat a hike like this.  There's nothing like getting close to big animals like that.  The people out there were pretty cool, too.  I didn't see anyone harassing the elk or trying to get inappropriately close.  A great day, all in all.

Tule Elk -- Point Reyes National Seashore, CA

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Point Lobos State Nature Reserve

October 13, 2013

It's October.  The elk are in rut and I haven't had a chance to go out to the tule elk reserve on Point Reyes yet.  This would have been a great weekend for it.  If it wasn't for that damned government shutdown, that is.  I imagine the annual migrations are in swing at the wildlife reserves in the central valley as well.  Those are closed as well.  Yosemite?  Closed.  Muir Woods?  Closed.  Pinnacles?  Closed.


What's a weekend adventurer to do?

Golden Eagle -- Carmel Valley, CA
I decided to go for an old standby.  Point Lobos.  Like Pinnacles National Park, it's close by.  I tend to go there when I haven't worked out a destination for the weekend.  It's one of the best places I know of for seeing wildlife.  I've always wanted to hike the entire reserve.  It's not large, I think the loop is less than six miles long.  I never seem to give myself enough time, though.  I decided I'd make it around this time.

Point Lobos State Reserve, CA
I made it to Point Lobos at 12:30.  The park would close at 7:00, a half hour after sunset.  That would give me plenty of time to get around the big loop.  I parked outside the reserve (saving the ten dollar entrance fee) and headed out on the South Plateau Trail.  It's a pleasant 0.7 mile hike through a moss covered forest that ends at Gibson Beach, the Southernmost end of the reserve.

Harbor Seals -- Point Lobos State Reserve, CA
Bird Island is a very short hike from Gibson Beach.  I've been there when there are thousands of birds on the island.  Cormorants.  Pelicans.  Seagulls.  I even saw a Night Heron the last time I was there.  On this trip, though, there were maybe a hundred birds in total.  I realized that this was the first time I'd been to Bird Island in the middle of the day.  It's always been my last stop, always at dusk.  I wonder if the birds are more plentiful at night or have they moved on for the winter?

China Cove, Point Lobos State Reserve, CA
I've also never seen so many people in the reserve as the crowd I encountered at Bird Island.  I call it a crowd, that's probably an exaggeration.  I spent about a half hour there and I probably saw about three dozen people in that time, maybe two.  Considering I normally encounter a half dozen people there on a normal visit, it seemed crowded.  The rangers weren't allowing any cars in when I entered because all of the lots were full, and I guess it makes sense it would be busy since all of the federal park facilities are closed.

Weston Beach, Point Lobos State Reserve, CA
The tide was out, which made poking around in the tide pools and scrambling around on the rocks pretty easy.  I saw a bunch of small anemones and hermit crabs.  I also found a couple of pools with a few striped shore crabs inside.  They were eating something off of the rocks, but whatever it was, I couldn't see it.

The surf was small, so I scrambled all the way out to the edge of the rocks.  Keep in mind, my arthritic forty-six year old version of scrambling is probably different from a teenager's.  I've been soaked by waves out there before, and I imagine it would be a dangerous place with a high, rough surf.  There was nothing to worry about on this day, though.  The swells were gentle and mild.

Weston Beach, Point Lobos State Reserve, CA
There were a lot of harbor seals out on the rocks near Hidden Beach and later at Sand Hill Cove.  Sometimes I think these seals have got life pretty much figured out.  Lie around on the rocks all day.  Hop into the water and eat some fish whenever you get hungry.  I was reminded that a seal's life can be a little tough, though.  One poor seal had got some wire or something caught on its neck.  Another had a nasty looking cut on its belly.  A seal's life isn't all nap time and snacks, I guess.

Harbor Seals -- Sand Hill Cove, Point Lobos State Reserve, CA
There was an injured elephant seal on the beach at Sea Lion Cove.  The trail down was closed off and a ranger was positioned up top to keep people from going down.  He said people had been throwing rocks at the seal earlier in the day so they had to close it off.  I can not fathom the ugliness in a person's heart that it would take to do something like that.  Hearing that reminded me of the stories of people shooting buffalo through the windows of trains as they passed through the open prairies in the early years of the transcontinental railroad.  The inadvertent harm we do to this land and its inhabitants is bad enough, the seal with the wire caught 'round its neck being a fine example, we surely can't afford to continue this sort of outright maliciousness.I'm grateful for places like Point Lobos and frankly baffled by anyone that could come here and not treat the land and the animals with the respect they deserve.

Sea Lion Cove, Point Lobos State Reserve, CA
I'm not done with this soapbox yet.  Eighty years is a good, long life.  Two of my grandparents lived into their nineties and one seems determined to crack the century mark.  I hope that doesn't mean my journey will be that long.  Eighty years seem like the right amount of time to be alive on this Earth.  It's a small window in time.  Through this window we see the world as it has never been before and will never be again.  We can't see dinosaurs or woolly mammoths through this window.  We can't see grizzly bears in California.  We can't see what's ahead, either.  What we can do is treasure the view we have for the time we have, and we can not shoot the buffalo as we pass by.  These are the things I think about as I go on these little adventures by myself.

Headland Cove, Point Lobos State Reserve, CA
There are only two remaining natural stands of Monterey Cypress left on this planet.  One is the Allan Grove here in Point Lobos, the other being the grove a few miles up the coast at Cypress Point.  These trees used to be more plentiful, but their range has diminished over the last fifteen thousand years as the climate has changed.  Point Lobos was established specifically for the protection of the Allan Grove.

Allan Memorial Grove, Point Lobos State Reserve, CA
In 1890, Point Lobos was divided into lots to be sold for housing.  It's a tale as old as time in California, isn't it?  It would be called Point Lobos City.  In 1898, Alexander Allan began buying up the lots.  He recognized that the place was special.  He was not going to be shooting any buffalo through his window, nor would he let anyone else if he could help it.  He set the place up as a private park, charging an admission and allowing only a limited number of people in at any given time.  Eventually, California bought the land from the Allan family and it became the reserve we know today.

Pinnacle Cove, Point Lobos State Reserve, CA
When I'm bummed out by the callous behavior of some people, it's nice to remember that there are others who have stepped up to take care of places like this.  California's history is full of versions of this same story.  The most famous is John Muir's fight to save Yosemite.  His tireless work eventually led to the establishment of the National Park system.  Muir is the most well known example of a California man who saw through his window something that he wanted to ensure others would be able to see as well, but he was one of many who stepped up.  I'm not a particularly patriotic man, but I do feel a sense of pride when I think that the people that lived in this area of the world were some of the first to pull their guns back inside the train.

Cypress Cove, Point Lobos State Reserve, CA
OK.  Enough preaching.  Let's get on with the show . . .

The Old Veteran -- Cypress Cove, Point Lobos State Reserve, CA
A couple of trails were new to me on this loop.  One of them was the North Shore Trail.  It's 1.4 miles long and covers some slightly rough terrain, ending at Whaler's Cove.  It's also got some fine views of the rocks and ocean and meanders through some nice forested areas.  The Old Veteran can be easily viewed from a short spur trail near the Western end of the North Shore Trail.  The Old Veteran is a gnarly old Monterey Cypress that clings to the side of a cliff.  A lot of its roots are exposed and one can't help but wonder first how long it has been clinging to the side of the cliff and second how much longer can it hold out?

Whaler's Cove, Point Lobos State Reserve, CA
Whaler's Cove pretty much marked the end of the loop for me.  From there, it was a short hike up the Carmelo Meadow Trail to the entrance of the park.  The hike took me around six hours to complete, meaning I was averaging about one mile an hour on the hike.  Obviously, I stopped a lot to look at things, explore interesting areas and take pictures.  All in all, it was a great way to spend the day.

Whaler's Cove, Point Lobos State Reserve, CA

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Russian Gulch State Park

Pongo Goes Camping

September 26 & 27, 2013

Pongo has been doing great on his day trip adventures lately.  When I originally started taking him on trips, he'd be OK in the car and would do OK for an hour or two at whatever location we went to, but after that he'd basically shut down and want to go home.  His attitude changed dramatically this summer, though.  He would be excited the entire car ride, even on trips over two hours away.  He'd be totally into whatever we were doing for as long as we did it.  If he hadn't had enough he'd even refuse to get back into the car.  I decided to bump it up a notch and try an overnight camping trip.

California State Route 128
I wanted to keep it fairly close to home but also have it far enough away so that staying overnight wouldn't seem silly.  I decided to head for Mendocino.  It would be about a three hour drive, with some of it going through redwood forests.  If Pongo was having a hard time, it wouldn't be too far of a drive home in the middle of the night.

Mendocino County, CA
I worry about Pongo.  Yoshika picked him up from a shelter where he'd been isolated for being aggressive.  He was less than six months old at the time and had been brought in as a stray.  He's so alert and is wound so tight that I can't imagine the kind of stress that he must have been dealing with.  I think in our early adventures that he was either getting over-stimulated and/or he was worrying about not being able to go back home.  This trip, more than anything him else, was to give him the experience of camping overnight then going home.  I want him to know that we always go home in the end.

Russian Gulch State Park, CA
We arrived at Russian Gulch State Park in the late afternoon.  We ended up in the exact same site I'd camped in almost twenty years ago with my parents, sister and Sam.  Pongo worked his charms with the lady park ranger.  She came by and visited with us later.  We hiked out to the beach then went back to our camp site where I cooked us both up some dinner.  It was a little chilly at night, but we had a nice fire going.  I read by lantern and Pongo relaxed on his blanket until we went to bed.  I was worried with how he'd handle being outside at night in a strange place, but he didn't seem to have any problems.  He was probably calmer that night sleeping in the car than he normally is at home.  It was very quiet there, so I think that helped.  There's a lot of city noise where we live.  In fact, as we speak I can hear the music and PA announcer at the Raiders game.

We had a little drama in the morning when Pongo hurt his foot.  He didn't want me to look at it and I couldn't see a problem, but he was limping around.  At first he refused to eat breakfast, but eventually he ate it.  It all seemed a bit dramatic.  I packed everything up and we drove out to the headlands for some pictures.  As soon as he realized we were going to walk on some trails his foot didn't hurt anymore.  He was his normal, energetic self.  He was just panicking a little earlier.

Mendocino Headlands State Park, CA
We didn't stay too long.  I wanted him to absorb a sense that home is never too far away.  We'll see how well that worked next time we go camping.