On The Way To The Lighthouse
By Mary Olsen
Most visitors to the Point Reyes National Seashore head to the Lighthouse. The roundtrip can be made in as little as two and a half hours, but there is so much to do on the way that it can easily be stretched to a pleasant all day trip. Although it is only about 17 miles to the very end of the road, the speed limit is 40 miles per hour (unless otherwise posted) and the road is narrow and twisty in parts.
The area is intensely patrolled and tickets are issued, so be advised. The road is rough and rife with potholes. However, the intrepid will be rewarded with stupendous views of the countryside and the coastline. The very lucky may also see a bobcat, a fox, Tule Elk or even, possibly, a mountain lion. Elephant seals and sea lions are always on the agenda and bird lovers are sure to spot raptors and ospreys or any one of the thousands of species that soar the skies of this wild landscape.
And there is plenty to please history buffs and day hikers as well. In short, it’s sure to be a day that will delight the entire family – that is, IF the weather cooperates. Rain or coastal fog could be a spoiler although hardy romantics may enjoy the moody gloom. Be sure to bring warm jackets, sturdy shoes, water, snacks and binoculars.
The lighthouse is the terminus of the 40 mile Sir Francis Drake Boulevard which begins in San Rafael. The road is named for the infamous pirate -or English explorer, depending on the historical perspective, who is said to have landed at Drakes Bay in 1579.
It is believed that Drake made contact with the Coastal Miwoks who may already have been here for more than 5,000 years at that time.
The next to arrive were the Spanish Missionaries, followed by settlers who came after the US annexed California in 1848.
After entering the National Seashore you’ll notice Park signs designating The Alphabet Ranches, as they are known. After a messy lawsuit in 1857 lawyers divided the ranch lands of the Pt. Reyes peninsula into leased parcels and gave each a letter name, the exceptions being the ranches given more poetic names by one of the lawyers, such as Drakes Head, Muddy Hollow, Oporto and Sunnyside.
Read the fascinating history of ranching on the peninsula on the park’s website: www.nps.gov.
To get a great perspective of the Park, climb the road to the top of Mount Vision. Look for the small brown sign on your left just inside the park boundary. (See “The Grandest View in West Marin” just a few pages away.)
Next along the route notice the small brown sign “Drake’s Estero”. Until recently the sign read “Drakes Bay Oyster Company”. A long battle between the aquaculture operation and the Park Service was won by the latter. The road out to the kayak put-in spot is made of crushed oyster shells, now taking on a new and ironic meaning.
For a not-too-strenuous short hike, turn at the small sign, “The Estero Trail”. It’s just four miles out and back and offers some excellent birdwatching. A Christmas tree farm of long ago has grown into a little forest where beautiful egrets make their nests. Just beyond is a wooden bridge with some built in benches that makes a lovely spot to rest and look for leopard sharks in the water below.
The trail ends a short distance later with a pleasant view of the Estero – the Spanish word for estuary – a place where fresh and salt water meet.
The next interesting stopping point along the Boulevard is the historic RCA building.This is the site of a Marconi era (Morse code) ship to shore communication station. To get to the 1929 Art Deco building drive through the Monterey cypress tree tunnel. This tunnel has suddenly become a popular site due to its similarity to The Dark Hedges tree tunnel (near Armoy in County Antrim, No. Ireland) made famous in the popular HBO series Game of Thrones.