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Chuck Graham

Close Escapes: Point Reyes National Seashore

Wet, Windy, and Wonderful


It quickly became clear that my friends and I had no shot of kayaking out of Tomales Bay. With the surf in the 10-foot range, an early winter swell was closing out Tomales all the way across to Bodega Bay. But our stranding turned out to be a blessing. There’s plenty to see along the rugged Point Reyes National Seashore, a 90-minute drive northwest from San Francisco.

We landed our kayaks at Blue Gum Beach, pitched our tents, and hiked atop the peninsula north to Tomales Bluff. The weather-beaten, wave-battered stretch of coast was a cacophony of seabird songs carrying across light northwest winds — bickering western gulls, shrill pigeon guillemots, and cooing cormorants. We came across grazing tule elk on grassy knolls and behind coyote brush, their impressive antlers thrashing about the coastal sage scrub.

There’s a maze of trails at Point Reyes that lead to scenic overlooks, driftwood-strewn beaches, and rich wetland habitats. They also take you to the historic lighthouse. Built in 1875, it’s been a beacon for countless seafaring folks along a treacherous stretch of coast, considered the second-foggiest place in the world and regularly whipped by stiff northwest winds. The highest winds recorded at the lighthouse were 133 mph.

Early the next morning we paddled out of Tomales. Beyond the bluff, we endured swirling pea-soup fog and eye-watering winds. After several hours, we stopped and took in the broad, shimmering Drakes Bay with the winds now at our backs. That was the final push we needed to sneak inside Drakes Estero, a haven for hundreds of bird species. American white pelicans greeted us as we picked our way through the surf.

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