Can I pick ’em or can I pick ’em? I chose the least windy day of the week to do an eight-mile out-and-back stretch of Coast Trail south of Limantour Beach at Point Reyes National Seashore. I started at the hostel, which I reached by following Limantour Road to the signed side road on the left. I parked along the road near the metal gate labeled Coast Trailhead and a new blue Tsunami Hazard Zone sign.
What a fabulous day! The few thin puffy clouds disappeared soon and the sky became a dark translucent blue. About 70 degrees with a slight breeze. Shorts and tee shirt were the order of the day.
I hadn’t been on this section of Coast Trail for about two years, not after that winter’s day when I encountered a huge muddy lake about halfway from the hostel to the beach. No warning sign at the trailhead, so it must have just happened. It looked impossible to wade across without mishap, so I followed a faint make-shift trace that led around it, up a steep muddy hillside through coyote bush and other tangled shrubs and vines. I knew poison oak would be one of those vines and tried my darndest to be on the lookout for it. Sure enough, two days later I developed an itchy rash on my left arm, probably because I had tried to steady myself on the slippery soil. Since then the trail has been repaired and looks good to go for this winter with the rains we all hope it will bring.
Not long after beginning the hike I came to a sign indicating this area is part of the Philip Burton Wilderness, an area of the seashore that is dedicated to the California Congressman who served in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1964 to his death in 1983. He had worked tirelessly for the enactment of the California Wilderness Act and on other environmental protection projects, such as the Golden Gate National Recreation Area. He was a colorful personality with strong opinions and he’s worth a Google search.
Although it was the end of summer, I found a fair amount of flowers along the way: twinberry, wild honeysuckle, coyote bush, sticky monkey flower, bird’s-foot trefoil, wild mint, pearly everlasting, beach aster, madia, yarrow, California poppy, chamomile, and poison hemlock as well as sword fern, Bishop pine, alder, willow, and the ever-present dandelion.
At first, to the left of the trail, an extensive wet area appears crowded with alders and willows. I think this is an extension of the marsh out at Limantour Beach. Then the trail dips and crosses over through an overgrown passage of horsetail, cattail, hydrocoytle ranunculoides, coast hedge nettle, willows, and lots of scrambling vines: blackberry, salmonberry, thimbleberry. Now the wet area is on the right of the trail and is filled with lovely alders that lean out over the path. Chickadees and other avian chatterers can be heard but not seen in the woods.
Soon the trail opened up on the coastal bluff, where I saw bluebirds, goldfinches, and black phoebes flitting around in groups in the coyote bush. The ocean was calm, a very dark blue, with turquoise streaks, and waves as if on a lake. Gulls in leisurely packs followed the shoreline, beneath them the water glittered and sparkled in the bright sun. No Farallones in sight all day, so there must have been a cloud bank stationed way out there. There was a bit of a breeze, but it was not cold.
A fat finger of white fog reached out of the sea and tickled at Coast Camp, about a mile away, my destination. I sat down on the edge of the bluff in a bouncy patch of ice plant and decided to try making a few watercolor sketches of the sight. Not too successful. The real thing can’t be duplicated.
I headed off again toward Coast Camp and at the lone eucalyptus tree took the path that leads down to the beach. This side trail was overgrown with blackberry, blue bush lupine with few flowers but lots of seed pods, and masses of vines, willows, stinging nettle, and grasses. The beach was empty of humans and birds. I turned south toward the black rocks beneath the tall sandstone cliffs, where the tide pools just peeked out at high tide. I found deer and raccoon tracks in the wet sand.
The cliffs are steep and come right down to the tide pools. At their feet were lots more greenery than I expected: yellow lizard tail and lavender sea rocket, plus seaside daisy and common monkey flower. A lovely purple sea fig was in bloom.
A sandy patch between the tide pools was strewn with a mess of kelp of all kinds and colors: dark red, beige, green, smooth, frilly, crinkly, and fringed. The most interesting were the short black paddles covered with a sort of pile, rubbery, bumpy projections. Finding out exactly what this is called proved to be frustrating because my field guides at home and the Internet were ambiguous. I think this is Gigartina canaliculata or G. papillata, with a common name of Turkish washcloth, a dig at the Turks who are imagined to be unaware of the possibilities and delights of softness.
My companions on this stretch of beach were a raven snacking on the body of a dead gull, a live gull trying to make a lunch of a lively crab, and three beautiful black oystercatchers out on the rocks.
On the way back—I retraced my route—the breeze had picked up in to wind, not quite the gale at Limantour Spit a few weeks ago. As soon as I left the beach and got up on the bluff, it toned down and was quite enjoyable. I spotted a colony of goldenrod that I missed on the way out, and a winter wren in the baccharis. I saw about ten people the whole day.