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Tomales Point

Point Reyes National Seashore

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May 20th, 2000

9.4 miles
1330 vertical feet
Total Time: 5:28

Rating: 7/10

Directions:   View Driving Map

Angie, Jean, Jennie, Jenny, Tom, and I hiked in Point Reyes National Seashore.

The drive to Point Reyes took about an hour from the Sir Francis Drake exit off 101. While most of the Bay Area was drenched in a heat wave and clear, sunny skies, as we neared the trail head we noticed a thick fog billowing over the hills from the ocean. As passed the Historic I Ranch, Historic J Ranch, etc., until we reached Pierce Point Ranch -- the start of our hike.

One word of caution -- there are no restroom facilities at the parking area, although there probably are at nearby McClures Beach.

We started off around noon, winding our way through through the hills. Most of the vegetation consists of grasses and bushes which don't exceed waist height. As such, you would think the views would be fantastic, but instead our view of the world was completely crippled by the enveloping fog.

The trail is a wide dirt road which rises up and down usually gently. There is one reasonably long climb up. At that point there are some views to the right of Tomales Bay. Our goal, Tomales Point, lies at the northwestern end of a narrow peninsula, with the Pacific Ocean on the left and Tomales Bay on the right.

Raven in flight

The hike was rather uneventful for the first hour or so. Then we started to hear the ocean on our left, though we could not really see it through the fog. A couple of large black birds flew around on our left. We later found out they were probably ravens.

Elk near their favorite pond

The reason for doing this hike is to see the ocean, see Tomales Bay, and see Tule Elk. But so far we'd struck out on all points. We kept searching through the fog, trying to spot one of the hundreds of elk living in on the peninsula (part of which is called Tule Elk Preserve). Finally, as we rounded a corner and started a descent, we spotted them. And not just one, or two, or a dozen, but probably around a hundred or so. Sitting around, eating, enjoying the nearby pond.

Elk staring us down

We stopped by the side of the trail and took pictures. We started at them, they stared at us. They seem to be accustomed to people, or at least unconcerned with them. While we ate our lunch a small group of them slowly made their way towards us, but they kept a reasonable distance before scampering back.

Elk butt

Elk in the fog

One of the few elk we saw with horns

One book called the Tomales Point hike probably the best place to spot wildlife, and I'd have to agree. We even spotted a few elk with large horns. Eventually, though, we had to continue on our hike, which meant walking away from the elk. We descended down to a small group of trees which looked like some sort of cypress trees. We then crossed a small stream and started a short ascent.

Lupine bush

Hiking toward one of the only groups of trees on the hike

The trail shortly turns to sand and the going gets tough. There's nothing more frustrating than walking uphill in the sand. I was glad for my trekking poles. They helped me make my way through sand, past all the wildflowers (mostly bright yellow lupine bushes). Hidden away in the vegetation were thousands of thick, fuzzy caterpillars. These are some of the largest caterpillars I've seen, some probably more than 1/2 an inch in diameter. We first noticed them on the sand occasionally before Jean noticed them hanging all over the plants. Big black and orange fluff balls.

Caterpillar on a lupine

Caterpillar on a thistle

This whole time our sight was still hindered by the thickening fog. We could hear a foghorn across Tomales Bay, but could not see anything there. We continued to hike through the sand, even though we had no visual idea of how far we had to go. The fact that the scenery was almost completely unchanging didn't help our sense of time.

Eastern edge of the point (Tomales Bay side)

Finally, after being in a fog for so long, we reached a crest and looked down at the ocean. We'd finally reached Tomales Point and were surrounded by water on three sides. On the left, the rock dropped away a vertigo-inducing 100 or more feet straight down. On the right, the drop the drop was more gentle. The waves crashed on a rocky beach further south along Tomales Bay. Jean, Tom, and I continued walking around the point and reached the very tip. The views were astounding. Jean went back up to get the others while we soaked in the view.

Western edge of the point (Pacific Ocean side)

You can practically walk down to the water's edge. Although that's definitely not recommended considering the heavy surf that could suck you out to sea. The rocks, the water, the waves, the sand, all created an awesome image of sea meeting land. And the best part of it was that the sun was finally showing and the fog was finally lifting! Just in the half hour we were there our views opened up incredibly. Suddenly we could see the community on the other side of Tomales Bay, filled with heretofore unseen sailboats.

Tomales Point

Group shot looking northeast

We can finally see the beach on the other side of Tomales Bay

Bird in flight over the ocean

As we made our way back the way we came, I kept looking back to witness views we hadn't seen on our way there. Looking back, we could see that if the fog had lifted earlier, it would have been quite easy to see what our destination was. The land obviously ends with a triangle culminating in Tomales Point.

Looking back at Tomales Point

Usually an out-and-back trail is somewhat boring since it covers the same ground. But this time it was completely different because we could now see what we could not see before. The views were impressive. And the tule elk were clearer now, standing next to a shimmering blue pond. Unfortunately, they were no longer as close to us as they were before, and the fog had lended them an air of mystery.

Elk Pond - this time in sunlight

Lone elk wandering below the pond

When we made the long descent that mirrored our long ascent on the way there, we saw another group -- just a small group of 6-10 -- tule elk in a valley near White Gulch, an inlet of Tomales Bay. Our only other encounter with elk that day would be seeing a couple on the side of the road on the drive back.

As nice as the views were, the hike seemed very long on the way back. Partly because of the sand, and partly because the scenery all began to look the same. Finally, I spotted a car driving on the road ahead of us. And soon enough we were back at the parking lot. We'd done we'd come to do -- seen the ocean, the bay, and the elk. Next time I'm here I hope to have a 300mm or 600mm lens so I can take some nice close-ups of the elk. It's a beautiful hike which deserves being done again -- but the fog which hindered us is probably a frequent visitor.

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