About an hour north of San Francisco by car in Marin County, 5 Compass Point Reyes National Seashore is sometimes referred to as a National Park by staff and volunteers. It definitely has a National Park feel. However, it isn’t as crowded and overused as most National Parks. Point Reyes is so large and diverse that it would take at least a week to begin to appreciate it fully.
Sunday. Focus on wildlife. Tule elk were once widespread in California. Estimates cite a population of about half a million of them in the 19th century. By 1905 there were only 140 remaining in Point Reyes’ 71,000+ acres. Now protected and thriving, the elk number 3,200. Ruth & I saw them on several hillsides, mostly beyond grazing cattle. Harbor seals. Northern Elephant seals. Yearly, the latter migrate up to 14,000 miles and hundreds of them winter for mating and pupping at Point Reyes. Many visitors choose to take the time to hike to an overlook for a close up view. Gray Whales. They migrate south in mid-January, are seen offshore, and return north towards the end of April and into May. 480 bird species including the endangered Northern Spotted owl are observed here.
Monday. Taking the bus from the main visitor center to reach the lighthouse is the only way to see it, and if you miss the last bus you have to walk 7 miles. It takes most of a day to enjoy the bus stops and visit the lighthouse in the windiest and foggiest place on the entire Pacific Coast. This lighthouse remained in operation from about 20 years after the Gold Rush until 1975 and was a challenging workplace. One keeper was taken directly to an asylum. Out of alcohol, some keepers drank cleaning fluid. There are 300 steps down to and back up from this ghostly lighthouse.
Tuesday. Learn some interesting history. It’s now believed that Sir Francis Drake was the first captain to circumnavigate the globe and explore the California coastline in 1579. His ship, Golden Hind, started leaking and it took about 36 days to repair it at Point Reyes in what is now called Drakes Bay. Drake’s original watercolors and the ship’s log of the voyage were turned over to Queen Elizabeth I but disappeared. Luckily, the diary of the ship’s chaplain did not. I found the story of why so many cattle live IN Point Reyes National Seashore especially fascinating.
Wednesday. Count cattle until you become as crazy as a lighthouse keeper. One third of Point Reyes is pasture land. At one time a law firm, Shafter, Shafter, Park, and Heydenfeldt, owned the entire Point Reyes peninsula. Isn’t Shafter an interesting name for a lawyer? SSP&H mapped out 30 ranches operated by tenant farmers who ran cows that produced butter and cheese prized in San Francisco and elsewhere. When the National Park Service took control, special arrangements were made. Those in control of the thriving dairies were allowed to stay if they agreed to let the land revert to the NPS if they chose to leave. 13 ranches remain with dairy cows on 7 of them.
Tomorrow. Thursday, Friday, and Saturday.