Point Reyes National Seashore, Part 1

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Perhaps that post title should say Part 2. Or Part 1 of Part 2. Regardless, this was my second visit to Point Reyes National Seashore. I’d stopped here after leaving the Redwoods, while driving between Christmas and New Years festivities in northern and southern California, but could only stay long enough to realize that I desperately wanted to come back. As a general rule of thumb, you will always desire more time at a national park. If you planned for  a day, you’ll wish you had two. If you planned for a week, you’ll wish for a month.  And on and on. The 401 units of our National Park Service system contain some of the most fascinating, significant, and beautiful sites on the planet; each worthy of your undivided, and more importantly, unhurried attention. I knew this on the first pass, and so even while approaching Point Reyes then I felt guilty at having less than a day to explore. Once getting lost cut this allotment to fewer than three hours, and upon learning that my arrival on a busy holiday weekend would limit accessibility to a number of areas, I knew such a brief visit wouldn’t do. I promised myself I’d make amends by returning as soon as possible. So instead of shooting north to Yosemite after my time in the desert as originally planned, I made a big loop out to the coast and followed the shoreline back to Point Reyes.

This time around, I pulled into the quiet visitor center parking lot on a rainy Wednesday afternoon. I stepped inside and asked the ranger working the registration desk if there were any backcountry campsites available; preferably a spot at the Coast camp. I’d done a little research beforehand (a few months before while daydreaming about the trip) and remembered that this site had seemed the most appealing. The ranger checked her log and confirmed that yes, there were sites available, and in fact I would have the campground all to myself. We made chit-chat while she filled out my backcountry permit, then just before leaving I asked about hours of high tide.

“Oh, it won’t be a problem,” she said. “You’ll be in a valley away from the ocean.”

“Well,” I explained, ” I was kind of hoping to check out some of the tide pools in the area.”

I couldn’t be certain as it had been awhile since my research, but I thought I remembered reading that there were tide pools near this camp.

“Not out there,” she insisted. “It’s nothing but a sand beach.”

A little discouraged, I thanked the ranger and returned to my car. It was a half hour drive to the trailhead, but this allowed the rain time to stop before I parked and packed my gear. From there it was only a two mile hike to the campsite, which included a small climb out of the parking lot. Well, technically it was a small climb, but it was big enough to remind me what three years of sitting on my butt in school had done to my level of conditioning. Just the same I made it over the crest (with only a slight wheeze) and then meandered down to sea level. It was getting late in the afternoon, and this being January I knew sunset would come early, but I was in no particular hurry. I’d really hoped to get out and try to photograph some tide pools, but the ranger had put a quick end to that notion. Not that a sand beach isn’t also cool, but frankly I had spent the previous evening photographing that type of scene at Half Moon Bay and was looking for something different. I sighted the ocean after forty five minutes of walking, then turned behind a ridge and looked for my campsite up a sheltered valley.

By the time I’d set up my tent, the valley had fallen to shadow and the surrounding hills were cast in a golden glow. I grabbed my camera and tripod, but rather than backtrack to a small gap that provided access to the beach, I decided to climb into the hills for a unique perspective. I first followed a well established footpath out of the campground, then made my way along game trails to cliffs overlooking the shore. The view was tremendous, but the true surprise from this windswept vantage came in the form of dark, rocky outcrops protruding from the beach far below.

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Now, I’m from Iowa, so maybe my terminology is a little off. Perhaps, if needed, someone more familiar with marine ecosystems can clarify or correct me on this. But when I think of a tide pool, I envision a rocky area along the shore where shallow pools form with the receding tide. The pools are often full of aquatic life that can be easily viewed when the tide is out. The ranger I had spoke with claimed that there were none of these in this area, but standing there with the view above -even the farm boy in me knew otherwise.

I soon found myself racing along the cliff tops and then down a steep ravine to try and get to the shoreline in time. Unfortunately when it comes to photography and lighting, mere seconds can make all the difference in the world. Honestly, that’s my only complaint in this whole matter. I don’t know why the ranger had led me astray, but if I’d known there really were tide pools (or whatever these are) within a mile of camp, I would have hiked out with heightened urgency and gone directly there before setting up for the night. Instead, when it came to taking pictures of ocean life in the pools, I got there about twenty minutes too late.

But how can you be mad in the backcountry? Knowing that it was all a misunderstanding and really quite trivial in the big picture, I shrugged it off and shot what I could. I caught a spectacular sunset as the next storm front began creeping in, and messed around with some long exposures of the beach and tide. Happy with the outing, I made my way back to camp in the dark and settled in for the night.

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Thanks for taking the time to view my work. Be watching for more images from Point Reyes (Part 2!) to be posted soon, and please consider following me via Facebook and Twitter. I’m inching ever closer to gaining 300 followers on my Facebook photography page, and I appreciate all who have helped in reaching this milestone.

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