Friday, September 23rd: Point Reyes National Seashore -- a smorgasbord of habitats
Weather: A nippy 45F last night, warming to a sunny 68F but windy at the seashore
Route: Sir Francis Drake Blvd --> PCHwy/CA-1 --> Bear Valley Road (Point Reyes Visitor Center) --> Limantour Road (Limantour Beach) --> Sir Francis Drake Blvd --> Pierce Point Road (Tomales Point)
- It was only a 15-mile/30 minute drive to Limantour Beach but the winding, sometimes rough but scenic roads, reminded us of how we pretended to drive when we were kids -- jerking the wheel from side to side continuously.
- The more time we spent in the area of the Point Reyes National Seashore the more we were noticing the popularity of road cycling, even though the terrain was very hilly and the traffic was not always considerate of cyclists. Marin County created bike lanes wherever feasible, painted bike lanes green so they were very visible and posted signs everywhere about sharing the road with cyclists. One cyclist I chatted with, riding from Eureka to San Francisco, claimed the most difficult part of cycling here was the wind, but admitted there was also a lot of trust required, both on the part of cars and bicycles.
- We left Camp Taylor in the cool of the morning, driving through the quaint towns of Olema and Inverness. The advertised BBQ'ed oysters sounded really tasty but the shops were not open yet.
- The National Seashore is another terrific destination for those who enjoy scenic drives with the occasional stop for a short walk. We passed several interesting B&Bs during today's wanderings, which might make cosy base camps for exploring the area or getting out early in the morning for bird-watching. There were also several watersport rental and tour companies -- not for the Pacific shore but for the much calmer Tomales Bay side of the Point.
- We made a quick stop to scope out the Sky Trailhead parking area where tomorrow's backpack hike would begin before driving the dirt road to Limantour Beach.
- From the Limantour Beach parking area we enjoyed a peaceful beach walk along Limantour Spit. The Limantour Spit was an interesting place to see beach, dune and mud flat habitats. One plant we noticed was the edible Ice Plant (see below). The beach was a very long stretch (maybe 5 miles) of clean sand with rough surf. Its crashing surf, the Plover nesting sites and the gulls scavenging dead crabs for breakfast filled our senses. We stopped to chat with a seashore conservationist conducting her morning inventory of bird species on the beach.
- The Gulf of the Farallones is a rich marine habitat. Besides the protected Plover nesting area, Starfish can be seen at low tide, Tufted Puffins breed on the Farallon Islands, and one of the largest populations of White Sharks hunt here where 20% of California's Harbour Seals breed.
- Returning to the Point Reyes' Bear Valley Visitor Center (and restrooms) we walked through the nearby authentic Kule Loklo Village built by descendants of the Coast Miwok People who lived here for 8000 years until 200 years ago. The Miwok lived inland but migrated to the coast when the Salmon were leaving the ocean to follow creeks to their spawning grounds in Spring. During the Spring and Summer Clams and Abalone were gathered at low tide.
- To the east of Tomales Point, Tomales Bay was a major multi-million-dollar oyster-producing habitat. The delicate balance of freshwater and marine ecosystems in the bay used to produce a sweet Pacific Oyster but heavier rainfall combined with ocean warming has reduced yields in recent years.
- To reach our final hike of the day we drove north along the west side of Tomales Bay to the Tomales Point Trailhead. On the easy but windy hike to Tomales Point were several historic ranches, now owned by the NPS, and the Tule Elk Preserve. We spotted elk several times as well as several types of hawks or falcons and many songbirds.
Tule Elk are native only to the grasslands of California where they graze mainly on Tule Sedge Grass. They were thought to be extinct due to over-hunting by 1874. A local rancher, Henry Miller, discovered one male and one female on his property and ordered his workers to protect them. The herd grew until Henry died, when hunting and ranching again reduced the herd to 28 animals by 1895. In 1978 2 males and 8 females were successfully transplanted on Tomales Point from a herd living in the San Luis National Wildlife Refuge. As their numbers grew, some biologists feared the elk would over-populate Tomales Point but the population has levelled out at about 450 animals. Not only have the elk not damaged the habitat but they are now helping to restore the balance of the natural systems there.
- We were pleased that we had no problems walking 10 miles today.
- For the remainder of the afternoon and evening we toured the historic area, now the picnic grove, of Samuel P. Taylor SP, and gathered together our backpacking food to get an early start again tomorrow, since we are expecting delays along Sir Francis Drake Blvd due to a cycling event. Dinner was buckwheat pasta with fire-roasted tomatoes and kale.
What we learned: The San Andrews Fault runs right along the length of Tomales Bay.
ICE PLANT (Mesembryanthemum crystallinum) [Aizoaceae] is an annual succulent, native to South Africa, now prevalent along the sandy coasts and rocky deserts of the Mediterranean and North America where it was introduced as a ground cover for erosion control. Certain populations can tolerate seawater salinity and a number of varieties are considered xero-halophytes. Both leaves and seeds are edible; the leaves have a buttery lemon herb flavor with a fleshy texture and can be eaten raw, boiled or pickled. In South Africa, the entire plant is beaten, fermented, and chewed. Ice plant is currently being field tested for its soil stabilization and overall rehabilitation potential in the Aral Sea basin.