Tomales Point Trail – Cinco de Mayo 2014

Fair winds and wildflowers marching over the hills continued to greet us as we hiked out the Tomales Point Trail last Monday with Jim. Hillsides of wild radishes and yellow bush lupines lined up along the trail saluting our parade up the peninsula. The crashing of the waves on the beaches provided the percussion and birdsongs, the sweet woodwinds. With the Pacific Ocean at our left and Tomales Bay on the right, water also framed our walk with the waves far below and in the ocean above us, clouds were gradually forming an armada for some hoped for rain. Occasional rocky boulder arrays covered with California poppies seemed artfully placed on either side of the trail with all the thought of a Japanese garden. At one place, Jim picked up some sand from the trail and we could see the sparkling of tiny crystals in his hand and then looking out at the Pacific saw similar sparkles as the sunlight reflected from the water, micro and macrocosm.

Cow Parsnips on the hill above the Pierce Point Ranch whose roots were in the mid-19th Century and continued operation until 1973. It was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1985 and is an interpretive site of farming history on the Pt. Reyes Peninsula. Tomales Bay is top center and a huge sand dune marks the area above Dillon Beach. Starting in 1852 a San Francisco law firm of “Vermont-native lawyers” and businessmen seized “the opportunity to market large quantities of superior quality butter and some cheese under a Pt. Reyes brand to San Francisco”. They bought the land holding on to most of the peninsula for farm leases. It was they who named the ranches alphabetically which we see to this day. But they saved one piece of the property for an old friend of theirs from Vermont, Solomon Pierce – what would become the Pierce Ranch. They sold the land to him in December of 1858 for $7,000. Pierce and his son, Abram Jewell Pierce, made the most of this opportunity and became wealthy in the butter trade. – rich background, well written
The application for historical recognition has many splendid, surprising details and is enlightening about the application process.

Jim asks who has taken this trail before and gets a solid response as he and Armand seem to be touching with their high fives.

California Goldfields (Lasthenia californica) surrounded the fences of the parking lot, Jim said that the flower seems to like disturbed areas.
When Solomon Pierce first came to California, he tried the actual gold fields before returning to farming at Pt. Reyes, kind of a Levi Strauss of butter.

Jim talks about some Sheep Sorrel (Rumex acetosella) in a review from last week. We didn’t observe any poison oak along the way but does the place where he’s sitting make you uncomfortable? Not to worry. Next along the trail Jim shared some information about Woolly Bear Caterpillars finding one along the way:

McClure’s Beach has the idyllic look of a far away island. The Pierce Ranch was sold to James and Margaret McClure on December 31, 1929
by an intermediate owner John Rapp, a San Francisco brewer, who had acquired the land in 1917. The McClures did not make butter anymore but did produce “market cream” which they now were able to truck to market. The Pierces had originally sent their butter to market on schooners that sailed around the Pt. Reyes peninsula and down along the coast and into San Francisco Bay. They also raised pigs with the surplus skim milk from the butter production. You can imagine both casks of butter and pigs making the voyage together to San Francisco.

Watching some Red-tailed Hawks not making lazy circles in the sky, in addition to their usual soaring patrols they use the prevailing winds of this area to hover in the air to find their prey. Kiting enables a remarkably detailed view of the turf they are surveying uninterrupted by the movement and motions of flight. The Wiki article on “Bird vision” is wonderfully detailed and a fun “dip into” with its amazing detail.

The coast is clear with far-across Bodega Head in definition before the final line of coastal mountains – the trail is opening up to spectacular views.

Coastal Tidy Tips (Layia platyglossa) in the Sunflower Family entertaining a visitor at the moment. Many nurseries and seed sources like this flower and feature the seed for sale.

Jim commented that the BIG holes along the trail might have been made by either coyotes or badgers. The way to distinguish the architect
is to look for claw marks on the sides which indicate the sideways badger style of digging or the track marks in the front showing frontal dig patterns of the coyote in dog-like mode. They are often looking for gophers or voles. In addition to providing food for their predators “the gopher can move about a ton of soil to the surface each year. This is an enormous achievement reflecting the gopher’s important ecological function.”

A yellow bush lupine about to burst into bloom greens up the scene contrasting with the blue of the Pacific and the sky.

A little later along the way we spot the low-growing Sky Lupine, Lupinus Nanus, Nanus means dwarf. Usually 4 to 20 inches high it is a smaller presentation compared the Yellow Bush Lupine which can reach from 2 to 9 feet. “The Sky Lupine’s leaves are somewhat hairy and are divided into five to seven leaflets. The blue flowers have a white or yellow spot on the standard.” Wildflowers of Marin, Lilian McHoul

Looking out to Lighthouse point of Pt. Reyes National Seashore in the distance near the place of our last week’s hike at Chimney Rock. One of the large clumps of Douglas Iris which we saw on this walk is in the foreground and a spray of Cow Parsnip plant further on. You can see the faint line of Pt. Reyes Beach or 12 Mile Beach picking up the sunlight and nearer by our earlier view of McClure’s Beach now at a distance.

Here a fenced, protected area is being evaluated for comparisons with the adjacent land nearby. Studies to understand the impact of the grazing Tule Elk herd which is mostly confined to this Tomales Pt. area of the park will help good management of the land. This coastal prairie land was carefully maintained by the native Miwok Indians for as least two thousand years as they used fire to burn the poison oak and coyote bush to maintain the lush landscape of native grasses and flowers which were central to their diet. It was this rich land that the farmers of Pt. Reyes “inherited” (earlier taken) from the original inhabitants. In a modest balance, some of the Miwok descendants worked on these Pt. Reyes Dairy Ranches along with a a veritable UN grouping of Chinese, Canadian, Filipino, Mexican, and German immigrants on farms rented by Irish, Swedish, and Azorian Portuguese.

He who was a once-beautiful rock. (Borrowed from Rodin’s sculpture, “She who was the Helmet Maker’s Once-Beautiful Wife.”)

Young buck Tule Elk coming into their velvet. In what is a sadly familiar story, they were almost exterminated in much the same way as the Northern Elephant Seals we saw last week. A small group of two bulls and eight cows was brought to Pt. Reyes in the spring of 1978 from the San Luis Wildlife Refuge near Los Banos in the Central Valley. The large area of Tomales Point became their stomping ground and by the summer of 1988 there were 93 animals. By 2009 a population census counted over 440 in this area.

The Tule Elk females seem to maintain separate herds this time of year here. They are closer in to Pierce Point Ranch with the males further out on the point.

Mother and yearling with Tomales Bay background, what is that large white bloom on the right?

Packing up after lunch in the Pacific Reed Grass, Calamagrostis nutkaensis. The Cala part of the ID is firm (Cala Market memories) but I note that there are a number of grasses that have this prefix i.e. Calamagrostis ophitis, Calamagrostis foliosa, Calamagrostis rubescens but the C. nutkaensis looked the best, right? How about an all grass hike with Jim sometime? Jim told us that this grass moves about with its own sister or fellow plant travelers – its own little ecosystem. Larry spotted a lot of low growing Yarrow (Achillea) and some broader iris (Douglasiana?) leaves along with those Cow Parsnips. There is Elk Clover, I wonder if there are Elk Parsnips?

A pair of ravens observes us while they enjoy protection from the wind in the warm sunshine. On an earlier hike on this trail a few years ago, I saw a raven flying upside down repeatedly while high over the coast in what seemed like a lyrical moment of “just having fun”.

Some kind of delineation along the way, between upper and lower Pierce Point Ranch maybe, maybe not. Actually, this long line of stones on our Tomales Point Trail has been impressively studied by a high school student at Sir Francis Drake: AN ARCHAEOLOGICAL MYSTERY IN OUR BACKYARD done by Michael Wing

Was this the moment when we saw a spouting whale? A sighting per week is not too bad.

Comparing notes as our hike concluded . . . Here’s another archaeological mystery, no one could figure out what this might have been used for, what was this box about? We tried listening while holding the black handle and heard only the wind.

Watch out for crossing Tule Elk on the way back and the way in too!

Taking her time

Bravo, made it!

P.S. Recalling all of the ship wrecks along the Pt. Reyes Peninsula here is another airship crash. I found it in a new book about Pt. Reyes that looks quite fetching: REYES OF LIGHT, The Point Reyes Light House and the National Seashore by Richard P. Blair and Kathleen P. Goodwin, Color and Light Editions 2014, P.O. Box 934, Pt. Reyes Station, CA. 94956 (BLAIRGOODWIN.COM) of Light

Yet another air crash added to Pt. Reyes History this time involving a young Clint Eastwood:

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s