Over the years, I’ve learned I don’t mess with Father Time or Mother Nature. I now can add a third – El Nino. Let me explain. To celebrate the last days of our January fortnight in California, we plan to meet up with our friends Scott and Tree near Mendocino, CA, some 150 miles north of San Francisco.
Having slept and breakfasted well at the Quality Inn here in Petaluma, we are psyched for our drive north of 100+ miles on the Pacific Coast Highway this Martin Luther King, Jr. Monday morning.
Then I get a text from Scott with news that the Pacific Coast Highway, the main coastal artery north of San Francisco, has closed just south of their house due to flooding from the rains of El Nino. What to do? Go, delay, stay? My first instinct is to drive north on the PCH right after breakfast, bluff hike just south of their place in Gualala, and hope the water recedes and the road opens. We can certainly find a motel if the flooding persists.
Thirty minutes later, checking the road conditions online myself , I learn that now, to the north of Tree and
Scott, Route 128, a major access highway to the interior from the coast, is also closed due to flooding. And with that water over the road our decision is made.
With heavy rain forecasted for tomorrow, it’s just possible that, though we may get to their house, we may get trapped there if the water levels rise again. Needing to be in San Francisco Wednesday night for our Thursday 7A flight to Boston, we opt to stay put.
Bummed that we don’t get to hang with Scott and Tree, we look to the southwest for our hiking adventure for the day – Point Reyes National Seashore. Just 23 miles from our motel, the Bear Valley Visitor Center has a ranger who suggests the Tomales Point Trail through the Tule Elk Preserve.
With a 17 mile, 30 minute drive north on the Sir Francis Drake Highway, we end up at the Pierce Point Ranch. Finding the trail hard packed dirt softened by last night’s rain, we easily circumvent the puddles and hike these rolling California hills.
High above the Pacific Ocean, we see the brilliant white of crashing waves. The hillside is lush, rich green from the past two months of rain. It must be what Ireland is like – green without end, overcast from dawn to dusk, and about to rain at any time. With no desire to visit the Emerald Island, Hannah says, This is as close to Ireland as I need to be.
The trail, once an old farm lane, gently rises and falls throughout the hilly landscape. And soon we see our first elk, males with a full rack. Looking around and seeing not a tree anywhere, I wonder what we would do if they just decided they didn’t want to share their turf with us. They have quite the home field advantage.
The reintroduction of the Tule Elk is a triumph for park officials. Hunting during the Gold Rush of the 1850s nearly wiped out the elk. Eventually protected and supported, 3700 roam the park today.
As it turns out, the elk just check us out and continue to dip down into the grass for lunch or take an afternoon siesta twenty yards from the trail. The below video gives you an idea how close we are to these majestic animals.
Though the trail is 4.7 miles to the end, the National Park Service maintains only the first three miles. Herds of elk from ten to thirty dot the landscape as we mellow ridge hike between the Pacific Ocean and Tomales Bay.
Even at 2P, with sunset at 520P, families and couples keep coming. It’s joyous on this holiday Monday; we ask others to take our picture and we offer to take theirs. Nearly two and half hours later after seven miles of hiking, we return to the trailhead at the Pierce Point Ranch in light mist that has rain in its heart.
Before we head back to Petaluma for the night, we take the half mile trail to McClures Beach. Though swimming is not allowed, the sandy beach welcomes families and us New Englanders today. And then the first of two serendipitous encounters happens. We meet the delightful world travelers Joan and PJ.
Learning of their adventures as snow birds in California, Arizona, and New Zealand, we in turn fill them in on our family and our plans to spend a month in California next winter. I appreciate their interest, which is indeed quite rare on the trail. Many hikers, it seems, just want to tell their story. Since they are staying in Tucson for the winter and we are going to Tucson in six weeks, we plan to meet up.
Not two hundred feet later, I see a man hiking from the beach wearing a Cornell shirt (Cornell is in Ithaca, NY). As he approaches, I lift my black Maine sweatshirt to reveal my white hiking Ithaca shirt. Learning of his daughter at Cornell, we mention our son Will’s job at Ithaca College on the next hill there in central New York. Again, we have an interaction of mutual interest with Craig. A real conversation, not just a monologue that eventually just causes me to look for an escape route from the verbal onslaught.
With good vibes, Craig suggests the Matt Davis Trail at Mount Tamalpais State Park down the road in Stinson Beach. In two weeks, I’ll report from that trail.
Though the elk are cool (and respectful of our space and we theirs), the back and forth with these three brightens the overcast and reminds us how it’s the good people that shine light on our days in California.