Friday, November 27, 2009
Hikes at Point Reyes -- Photographic Interlude II
After our hike at Mnt Tam, we drove on to spent the night at Point Reyes Station, very close to the Point Reyes National Sea Shore. We hadn't been there for a while, and missed the brisk sea air, interesting wildlife, and exhilarating hikes.
For our first day, we'd picked the hike to Tomales Point. We started at the Historic Pierce Point Ranch, shown above with a stand of the rare Bishop Pine (Pinus muricata). In contrast to Mnt Tam, the Point Reyes area has been used for dairy cows since the time of the early settlers. Sadly, that means that the annual European grasses have completely replaced native bunch grasses. But on the flip side, these are happy cows, and the dairy farmers farm sustainably (and the cheese is delicious).
Some wildflowers remain. It was a special treat to see the Point Reyes wallflower (Erysimum concinnum), which originates here and is available through several California native nurseries.
And yet again, the views were amazing. As you can see on the map, we had the ocean on our left, and Tomales Bay on our right (walking out toward the point). There's some elevation gain, but the hike isn't truly steep. The sandy soil and fierce weather do not support trees, instead, you find Coyote brush (Baccharis piluaris) and Yellow Bush Lupine (Lupinus arboreus). I'm actually not quite sure whether this lupine is locally native here. I do know that it's amazing to hike this trail in late spring, when the lupine is blooming. Right now, it's just coming back from summer dormancy and starting to sprout grey-green leaves.
But here the views. First of the ocean.
And here Tomales Bay. Isn't it amazing? I can't believe I live just a few hours away. (Note to self: Go back in spring, take photos of lupine).
But we weren't just walking this trail for the views. And we weren't just walking this trail in anticipation of another excellent meal of local produce (Chanterelle pizza, anyone?). No, we were after something else entirely, and saw the first trace not to long after we started.
Yes, that's scat! And this particular scat, looking like triple-size rabbit droppings -- hard to photograph, who knew -- belongs to Tule Elk.
Let me quote from Point Reyes National Seashore: "The tule elk herds had virtually disappeared by 1860, 13 years before the state awarded them complete protection. In the spring of 1978, two bulls and eight cows were brought in from the San Luis Island Wildlife Refuge near Los Banos. The elk were contained within a temporary, three acre enclosure to allow for adjustment to their new surroundings. That summer, 6 of the cows bore calves. In the fall, 17 elk were released from the enclosure on Tomales Point to 2,600 acres of open grassland and coastal scrub. By the summer of 1988, the population was at 93 animals. The population census taken in 2000 counted over 400 elk."
Truth is, you don't even have to get out of your car to see the elk, there's a herd on the other side of Piece Point Ranch easy to see from the road. But we had fun doing our 9-mile walk and felt lucky that this land has not been built up and is available for all to enjoy.
The following day we got an early start and were ready for a short hike near the visitor's center. We loved the lichen. Point Reyes really is so much more moist than where we live. And all the forest groundcover plants thrive. Lots of mushrooms, grasses, undercover shubs such as snowberry, and 7-foot high huckleberry (vaccinium ovatum). Sword fern (Polystichum munitum) that was probably 4 feet high (The ones in my garden are about 1 foot, and struggling). It was almost an Alice in Wonderland effect, everything magnified, or maybe I had shrunk.
Again, beautiful views of the ocean, with conifers so pretty you want to decorate them as Christmas trees. Or maybe not.
Interestingly, while the grass at Tomales Point is already green from the recent rains and constant fog, the meadow here is still showing the golden California color. But in just a few weeks, it will be green as well.
Down in the valley, along Bear creek, everything was moist again, green, with lime green lichen, mushrooms, and thick understory. The birds serenaded us as we walked back to our car, happy about everything we'd seen, and feeling fortunate indeed that it had been a dry weekend.
"Now the rains can start," we said. "We're ready to rest for a bit, and hope to come back in the spring."