I hike at Point Reyes all the time, so I was surprised to see that I still haven’t written about it. It’s a huge, wild peninsula filled with great trails, and the hour-and-a-half drive to get there makes it a reasonable weekend destination. Today, Elizabeth and I hiked a big loop through most of Point Reyes’s landscapes, and I thought it would be a perfect way to introduce the area.
The plan was to start from the meadows near the visitor center, hike through the ancient Douglas-fir forests on the leeward side of Inverness Ridge, then descend through Bishop pine and ceanothus to the coastal scrub and the Pacific Ocean. We’d stop at Arch Rock on the coast, then come back through the densely forested Bear Valley.
Elizabeth and I started our hike at 9:20. We walked across the meadows surrounding the Bear Valley visitor center and then climbed the forested east side of Inverness Ridge. The air was cool and fresh. Sunlight came in through the trees at a low angle. Elizabeth and I had both been a little cranky from waking up to an alarm early on a Sunday morning, but being out in the mountains quickly improved our mood.
Blue and white forget-me-nots (Myosotis latifolia) lined the trail. In the understory were California hazel (Corylus cornuta var. californica), California bay (Umbellularia californica), and tanoak (Lithocarpus densiflorus). Douglas-firs (Pseudotsuga menziesii var. menziesii) grew above everything else. Showy irises (Iris spp.) and huge cow parsnip (Heracleum maximum) grew in the forest clearings.
We stopped in a meadow for a break once we reached the top of Inverness Ridge. In the distance, the golden cliffs of Point Reyes’s western boundary dropped into the Pacific Ocean.
I looked behind us at the short spur trail to the summit of 1,407-foot Mount Wittenberg. I must have walked by it a dozen times, ignoring it each time. But not this time. We hiked to the top, but I’m sorry to report that it was not worth the effort. The summit was indistinct and covered with patches of dense Douglas-fir that blocked any views. I don’t think I’ll be going back.
We hiked north to the Fire Lane Trail. Two years ago, I’d hiked it too late to see all the blueblossom ceanothus (Ceanothus thyrsiflorus) blooming on it. Would we catch them blooming today?
Through the gaps in the trees I saw the dark green hillsides ahead of us dusted with blue. The blueblossoms were blooming! Their boughs were weighed down by masses of blue flowers. Tiny blue petals completely covered the trail.
As we approached the ocean, the forest thinned into Bishop pine (Pinus muricata) scattered between clumps of California blackberry (Rubus ursinus), coyote brush (Baccharis pilularis), poison oak (Toxicodendron diversilobum), and bracken fern (Pteridium aquilinum). Fluorescent-orange scarlet pimpernel (Anagallis arvensis) and bright yellow bird’s-foot trefoil (Lotus corniculatus) lined the trail.
When we got to the beach we sat in the sand below the cliffs. We had lunch and watched the surf. The wind blowing off the water was cold enough for me to put on my jacket.
After lunch we walked for miles along the ocean on the Coast Trail. We were in coastal scrub, a plant community that bears some resemblance to chaparral, but that I’ve never been able to bring myself to like. Maybe that’s because it’s usually choked with poison oak.
Lovely creeks trickled from Inverness Ridge down into the ocean. The combination of a sheltered ravine and fresh water supported surprisingly lush vegetation: alders (Alnus rubra), willows (Salix sp.), horsetails (Equisetum sp.), cow parsnips, big yellow monkeyflowers (Mimulus guttatus), and ferns stumbled all over each other above the creeks.
Next to one of the creeks a small, inconspicuous flower caught my eye. A closer look revealed it to be a species of Calochortus I’d never seen before: pussy ears (C. tolmiei). Their three petals were a dusty lilac covered with fine hairs on the inside.
Our last stop was Arch Rock, a popular headland with excellent views of the ocean. As usual, it was crowded, so I had to ask two guys if we could sit next to them. One of them looked familiar. Then I realized it was Stuart, whom I’d met on a hike with a mutual friend years ago. He was there with his friend Dave. We talked out for a while, and then walked back to the Bear Valley visitor center together.
We all talked and joked, a welcome break from the solitude Elizabeth and I had had all day. We finished at 6:15—Elizabeth and I were out for nearly 9 hours! A great day in the wilderness. We all stopped at the Marin Brewing Company on the way home for an excellent dinner.