Biking to Point Reyes Lighthouse at Point Reyes National Seashore

We did just a short ride, 8.5 miles each way, from Point Reyes Beach North to the Point Reyes Lighthouse. But along the round trip we made 2,400 feet of elevation gain, with slow pedaling uphill. Thank goodness for an e-bike for Nancy and strong legs and lungs for Michael.

Lots of long, rather steep hills like this, where Nancy had plenty of time to get off the e-bike and rest…
while waiting for Michael to slowly make his way to the top.

Here’s a Strava map showing elevation changes out and back.

Surprisingly this turned out to be a wildlife tour, almost as good as Yellowstone National Park. Unfortunately, we weren’t expecting so much variety of flora and fauna, so we had only our i-phones, not the best for capturing animals at a distance. We saw elk with huge sets of antlers. These are not the same elk that we met in the Tetons; they’re tule elk, endemic to California. The species was almost extinct in the 1800s, but a small herd was nurtured and the population in the area is now roughly 400. We crossed paths with about 50 of them (at a distance, of course). Interestingly, the males seemed to hang around with their buddies without fighting or trying to rule a harem of females. They even mingled with the local cow population.

The light-colored animals with antlers are the tule elk. The dark ones are not.

We also saw birds of prey, deer and maybe mule deer.

Who is more curious? Us or the animals?

Several large herds of cows were free-ranging during the day and then headed to crowded barn lots in the late afternoon. We stopped to watch a coyote eyeballing one small group of cows with a newborn calf, probably hoping for dinner. He ran off when we started eyeballing him.

Newborn calf wobbling unsteadily on the right. Frustrated coyote skulking away on the left.

We heard sea lions on the rocks but couldn’t spot them.

The surf was filled with bobbing black blobs, but we decided they were probably seaweed rather than sea lions.

Gray whales pass the promontory at the lighthouse and we observed lots of spouts in the distance.

A couple spouts in this picture. Can you see them?

The seashore itself lived up to the promise of “thunderous ocean breakers crashing against rocky headlands and expansive sand beaches,” the description from the National Park Service. We saw and heard raging waves of white surf against golden sand under a blue sky. The primo viewing spot is from the South Beach Overlook, with breaking waves stretching for miles.

Point Reyes National Seashore South Beach Overlook

Much of the shoreline is sand dunes, often covered by a pretty green and red succulent that seemed to be keeping the area stable, at least preventing the wind from blowing the sand around. This is ice plant, which was introduced to the region from South Africa in the early 1900s for erosion control.

Ice plant on the dunes almost looks a bit Van Goghish.

The ice plant has a very pretty flower.

Ice plant in bloom

Unfortunately ice plants are hugely invasive, taking over anywhere they are planted and spreading rapidly. They prevent native species from getting water and nutrients, killing off any other vegetation. They don’t actually control erosion because the sand shifts under their shallow roots. So various efforts have been undertaken to try to remove ice plant. We learned about this from an information plaque that praised the efforts of volunteers to remove ice plant from 180 acres of the Point Reyes Headlands. The plaque was, you guessed it, in the middle of an invasive mat of ice plant.

Ice plant removal is an environmental version of The Sorcerer’s Apprentice, a seemingly impossible task.

Finally, the lighthouse itself…Point Reyes Lighthouse was built in 1870 and operated as a manned station for more than a century. Now an automated light and fog horn are in place near the historic site to provide important navigational aid around the rocky shoreline. Stephen has climbed down and back up the 313 steps to the buildings, 25 stories! Unfortunately (or fortunately?) the stairs were locked off during our visit so we couldn’t make the descent.

Long walk down. Even longer walk back up.

Visited October 2021

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