Point Reyes, CA: Coastal Enchantment

We gathered our courage and drove the RV over the Golden Gate Bridge. We had envisioned an Instagram-perfect moment, the iconic architecture spotlighted through our picture-glass windshield which had been aggressively scrubbed of its usual bug coating. We rounded the corner approaching the bridge, and ……

Doh!! Where are the bright sunbeams glinting off the cables, puffy white clouds in a cerulean blue sky, the seagull with a fish in its beak, swooping through the shot? So much for my fantasy life. We headed about 30 miles north of SF to Point Reyes National Seashore, where every day was greeted with a blanket of fog.

Limontaur (dog-friendly) Beach

You might think the National Park Service is only responsible for the 63 national parks. But oh no, they are saddled with a full 424 sites across the US … monuments, battlefields, parkways, lakeshores, preserves and more. That’s a lotta rangers and rangerettes in spiffy brown uniforms behind those iconic NPS shields!

Of the 10 national seashores, Point Reyes is the only one on the West coast, providing recreational lands and protecting wildlife, both landlubbing and marine. Look … it’s Patrick!

Tomales Bay is the long, narrow body of water that creates the point that is Point Reyes, with scenic views of boats both still floating, and not-so-much anymore.

Point Reyes is on a pointy peninsula in the Pacific Ocean and separated from almost all of the continental U.S. by the San Andreas Fault. And if you’ve got a pointy peninsula jutting into the ocean, you’ve got to have a lighthouse to protect ships from dashing themselves on that rugged coastline in heavy fog.

Point Reyes has seen 73 major marine wrecks, 37 of them total losses. “Splintered Ships and Smashed Dreams” … the next hit country song? To get up close and personal, however, you’re signing up for 313 steep steps (after hiking uphill 1/2 mile or more from your parking spot to the visitor center).

This particular 6,000-lb. Fresnel (“fray-nell”) lens is extra-beautiful, like Margot Robbie or Catherine Zeta-Jones in her prime. Made in Paris in 1867, she was made for a World’s Exposition so they polished her 1,032 pieces of hand-ground crystal up extra-fine. She is now decommissioned, replaced by a modern LED beacon that shines out 14 miles, is fully automated, and hooked up to the electrical grid. I guess this is progress but it’s a lot less romantic.

The Point Reyes Lighthouse is at the windiest and foggiest place on the entire West Coast, and the 2nd foggiest in North America (thanks for nothing for wrecking their title, Grand Banks, Newfoundland). Whenever the winds reach 40 MPH, they close the steps and you’ve driven 35 miles from the nearest town for nothing.

The drive way out to the lighthouse passes by the Cypress Tree Tunnel, a photog-favorite for its towering path to a no-longer-in-use radio station, which received wireless Morse code messages from passing ships. These trees were planted in the 1930’s when they were just lil ole saplings.

The station is billed as “art deco” but as far as we could see, that involved only painting a few black diamonds on the corners of any otherwise unremarkable white building.

Half of North America’s bird species can be found at Point Reyes, as well as reintroduced Tule Elk that were once hunted almost to extinction, because nothing says “seashore” like “elk.” Tule refers to the cattail-like grasses that they eat. (Side note: Philip has been working on a Nevada land development project called Tule Springs since 2012, and neither of us had ever even thought to wonder was tule was.)

The National Park Service still allows dairies, farms and historic ranches from the mid-1800’s to operate within Point Reyes, meaning more than 5,000 cows live here. And where there are cows, there is milk. And where there is milk, there is God’s gift to humanity: cheese!

You may have had Point Reyes Farmstead cheese in your very own home or at a restaurant — they are known for their bleus, after all. But this is where the magic originates … where 750 bovines stand ready to greet you on their working farm. The milk travels literally 20 yards from milking barn to cheese creamery.

This place is owned by three sisters, and the hostess proudly proclaimed their establishment to be “powered by poop,”with over 50% of their energy needs coming from methane released from cow poop. The cute little patio, working farm garden, baby cow waiting for petting, and BYOB tasting made for a cheese-riffic afternoon.

A road trip back toward San Fran involved 25 miles of twisty, turny coastline driving from Point Reyes to reach Muir Woods National Monument, where a stand of 600-year-old giant redwoods springs out of nowhere. This sign is carved into a slice of the iconic tree, and it’s named for John Muir, rock-star-famous environmentalist who wrote often about the beauty and value of ancient forests.

To refresh your tree-ology, sequoias are the largest trees on Earth by volume, but redwoods are the tallest, though they are no slouch in the girth department either. The tallest tree here is the height of a 23-story building, yet its roots are probably only 10-13 feet deep. How does it stay standing? I dunno.

The park has a lovely 2-mile boardwalk stroll, bringing you up close to these beauties. But to get closer (and higher) try the loop made up of Canopy View to Lost Trail to Fern Creek. It’s a nice alternative if you want something a little more challenging (average grade 10%/maximum grade 41%) and away from the beaten crowds.

July 16 was National Ice Cream Day, and who are we to neglect such an important day of honor? Palace Market in the cute tourist town of Point Reyes Station proudly serves up soft serve … made from water buffalo milk. Huh?! That’s right, it’s buffalo gelato. Turns out buffalo milk from the local Double 8 Dairy makes for a super-thick, super-creamy ice cream that is slightly less sweet than, say, Tastee-Freez. It was a hit!

The highs on the coast have been in the low 60’s, while the majority of the U.S. swelters under a grevious heat dome, and back home in Phoenix it’s been more than 110 degrees day-after-day-after-day for weeks. Our kids have stopped taking our calls because they don’t want to hear about the necessity for jackets. Sorry-not-sorry!

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