July 08, 2013

Point Reyes, San Franciso

Mention ‘California’ and the first thought that comes to most people’s mind is the Bay Area (popularly known as Silicon Valley) and the nice, clean and wide roads along with the year long beautiful weather. Though the whole of Silicon Valley and SFO is laden with companies and is almost like a concrete jungle without much foliage around, head 30 miles northwest of San Francisco and you will stumble on one of the best kept secrets in this area. The area famously known as the West Marin County is home to two major national parks the Point Reyes National Seashore and the Tomales Bay State Park. These are some of the amazing natural treasures located at an arm’s length from the hustle and bustle of the San Francisco City.

On a lazy Saturday morning, we decided to drive to what was windiest point on the Pacific coast and what was supposedly the second foggiest point on the North American continent – Point Reyes. On our 4WD we cruised through the freeway only to be stalled by the heavy traffic in SF. After wading through the dozens of traffic lights we hit the freeway again and soon were out into an altogether different landscape. Tall redwood trees made way for a small town which was to be the Bear Valley Visitor Information Center. The Visitor Center gives you an idea about the geography of the place and many other DOs and DON’T’s.  It also educates you about the different wilderness and activities that are available and also about road and trail closures.

And then we were presented with open ranchlands with loads of cows grazing and enjoying the sun. There must be lots of cattle ranches and dairy farms in this area, as the cows looked rather well fed and also all were tagged. Later I came to know that many of the boutique and high end hotels in SFO city have cheese supplied from many of these dairy farms which produce some of the best cheese in this region. The road meandered through the prairies and we hit the end of the road soon.

View of the Point Reyes Lighthouse
The lighthouse at the Point Reyes Station is an absolute beauty. It is located not at the top of the land but slightly below; this I was told was to avoid the fog that often decorates the SFO skyline and the lower perch makes it visible to the passing boats. There is a series of 300 odd steps that you need to climb down. A board forebode: ‘There is strenuous effort required to climb these stairs which are equivalent to a 30-storey building.’  If it is too windy, then the stairs are closed.

An old man, who was a ranger and a guide, and would have been perfect lightkeeper in his hey days was enthusiastic about the technology behind the lighthouse and explained to us in great detail about the optics used and its history. He informed us that it was a first-order Fresnel lens, one of its kind in the world that is no longer operational. This lens is almost 7feet high with concentric rings of glass prisms above and below a central drum. The lighthouse was decommissioned in 1975 and there is an automated light, foghorn, and radio beacon just next to the lighthouse now.

The Lens

If you are lucky, you can spot some gray whales that migrate past the peninsula and also can spot Northern Elephant seals return to the Point Reyes Headlands.  Also, also one can hike the full 9.2 miles to Tomales Point and further upto Bodega Bay. During the period from July to October you can also spot the Tule Elk. We were lucky to spot a few of them at a distance.

The park offers a diverse range of coastal terrains, including beaches, dunes, wetlands, streams, and forests, providing great opportunities for picnicking, hiking, bicycling, and horseback riding. It's also home to a wide variety of wildlife, from birds to elk to elephant seals to passing whales.

Getting There: Take your car and start early from SFO, you can easily return by dusk.

Staying/Eating:  Vladimir's, the landmark Czech restaurant, in Inverness, is perfect spot for a quick snack or drink before or after visiting Point Reyes. They do not have any vegetarian options. Pick up some picnic from Inverness before you venture towards Point Reyes.

Tip: Visit the Point Reyes Visitor Center or call them up before you visit to know the timings and any other weather conditions and other event schedules. Pick up some organic produce, like dairy, jams etc, from many of the shops near Inverness on your way back.

(This article was published in The Hindu - Metro Plus on 29-June-2013)

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