If you’re not careful, you’ll miss it.
Work, on a tectonic scale, masquerading as old fence stretching up a dusty knoll. A collection of weathered two-by-fours which abruptly halt in their climb and jump twenty feet to the right, before continuing their ascent.
Even the most romantic eye can plainly see…it’s just an old fence.
A good poet might find a way to wax eloquently on how the sun shines its warmth through the tree line, or how the wood, left to battle the elements has taken on a wizened patina…but their eyes will have played a merciless trick.
Their talents will be lost on the fact that beneath their very feet, a violent war rages. A brutally physical, emotionless marriage between a mother and a father which gives birth to mountains.
The little broken fence line in an entirely unassuming field is the lid on a jar of explosion which dwarfs any energy man or woman has yet harnessed.
You’re going to get caught up in the bustle. You’ll probably hike the trail, blow by the fence line and cruise on down to Drake’s Lighthouse for a peek at the Pacific Ocean. But if you’re reading this, I hope you stop.
Break out a blanket, spread it out in the twenty or so feet between fence lines and have lunch. Pull a couple of old plates from your backpack and toss them on your picnic blanket. Gather your children for a quick chat. Organize the plates to resemble a gear and pinion and show your children how by turning one, so goes the other. Show your children the tectonic plates beneath their feet.
If you get it right, the only sight more incredible than that broken fence line will be the look in your child’s eye as they discover this world may not be as concrete as they once thought it to be.
Or maybe it is concrete…but there’s always a bigger bully, who makes play-dough of mountains.
Created in part by a fissure in the San Andres Fault, the Point Reyes National Seashore is a 71,028-acre peninsula of coastal sanctuary. A safe haven, originally proposed by US Congressman Clem Miller to prevent the overdevelopment of its sensitive coastal lands.
If you’re in the San Francisco Bay area, put this on your to-do list.
Bear Valley Visitor Center
Address – 1 Bear Valley Road Point Reyes Station, CA 94956
Phone – (415) 464-5100
Hours – Friday, April 1, 2016, through Saturday, November 5, 2016:
Weekdays from 10 am to 5 pm, Weekends and holidays from 9 am to 5 pm
November 6, 2016, through March 11, 2017:
Weekdays from 10 am to 4:30 pm, Weekends and holidays from 9 am to 4:30 pm
Kenneth C. Patrick Visitor Center
***Located at Drakes Beach. This center is usually closed. Opens as needed for holidays.***
Phone – (415) 669-1250
Point Reyes Lighthouse Visitor Center
Phone – (415) 669-1534
Hours – Friday through Monday from 10 am to 4:30 pm, closed Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday
Suggested Stay: Though you’d be perfectly within reason to dedicate a whole week to Point Reyes, you can get a good feel for its greatest hits in much less time. We recommend one to two days. We spent our morning at the Bear Valley Visitor Center learning about the seashore’s geology, wildlife, and vegetation. When the girls got bored, we struck out and hiked the Earthquake and Kule Loklo trails. We explored and ate lunch at the Kule Loklo village. Following a 45 minute car ride to the coastline, we spent the afternoon exploring Chimney Rock, Drakes Beach, and the Point Reyes Lighthouse and Kenneth C. Patrick Visitor Centers.
Getting There: Drove via Waze without a hiccup. We called ahead and the resident park rangers advised we start our visit at the Bear Valley Visitor Center. We dialed in 1 Bear Valley Road Point Reyes Station, CA 94956 and arrived at 9:30a.m. to a near empty parking lot. Two hours later, it was slammed with a line of cars circling like sharks for the first empty space.
When you’re ready to explore the coastal region, grab a map from Bear Valley’s front desk. The map is an excellent resource and will serve you well as you navigate to the Seashore’s other attractions. As you work your way to the coast through rolling hills of picturesque farmland, cellular service drops off out of nowhere. The agrarian expanse is home to several closely monitored herds of Tule Elk but no cellular service towers.
It’s not a short drive. You’re paying for the incredible views with about two hours of car time and a helluva hike from your parking spot to Point Reyes Lighthouse. We ended up parking nearly a mile from the lighthouse trailhead.
While You’re There:
- Visitor Centers – The Bear Valley Visitor Center is grand. Real-life wildlife is staged throughout and the kids really had a great time exploring the exhibits. We actually had to bribe them with a promise of snacks to entice them to leave for our hike. Ask for Ranger Natasha. She was great and didn’t seem to mind our chaotic group in the midst of a slammed holiday weekend.
- Junior Ranger Program – The booklet for the program was seriously impressive, but we quickly realized that it was a tad over our kids’ heads. Perhaps more suited for 3rd graders or older, the book had a lot of reading and activities independent of the park experience. That being said, we did talk about a lot that was mentioned in the book and Ranger Natasha touched on a few points with the girls before issuing their Junior Ranger badges.
- Earthquake Trail – Flat as a pancake, the Earthquake Trail is a .7 mile paved loop. From the Bear Valley Visitor Center, the trailhead is directly across the parking lot. You’ll see a restroom facility and some picnic tables. Head in their direction and signs should get you the rest of the way. It’s an easy but meaningful stroll passing a segment of the San Andreas Fault which created the area in… you guessed it… an earthquake. Being free of poisonous vegetation, totally flat, and for the most part visible, you’ll struggle to keep your kids corralled for the incredible stories the trail tells. Ours were too busy running to be interested in tectonic tales. Though it was lost on them during the hike, the Junior Ranger program booklet did a nice job of capturing the lessons later in the day.
- Kule Loklo Trail and Coast Miwok Village – We’re not sure how long this trail actually is. The NPS website says eight tenths of a mile. All Trails says one and a third. Either way, it doesn’t feel long, and like it’s Earthquake sister trail, it is flat from start to finish. The trail culminates with a short hike through a tree line which spills your running children into a Coast Miwok cultural exhibit.The kids LOVED this hike. Beautiful in its simplicity, the Coast Miwok shelters were coincidentally “kid-sized” providing an hour or more of exploration. Imagining a tribe of Miwok children playing on the same patch of land will require exactly zero imaginative leap. Your children will inevitably being doing a spot-on impression.
- Point Reyes Lighthouse – Travel time to the lighthouse parking lot from the Bear Valley Visitor Center is about 45 minutes. From the lighthouse parking lot you’ll have to hike an additional 10 to 15 minutes to arrive at the start of the lighthouse trail.
PUBLIC SERVICE ANNOUNCEMENT – The weather might forecast 65 degrees and sunny. DO NOT BE FOOLED. Wind chill is a hungry animal and will ruin your hike if it catches you unprepared. Especially with kiddos involved, bundle them in a fleece or similar weight jacket and hats to block wind from their ears. You can see in this picture, we ended up wrapping Norah in a blanket before putting her in the kid carrier. She would have been miserable without it.The walk to the lighthouse is not for the faint of heart. 308 stairs carved into the side of exposed bluff made for some hyper-attentive parents. All of that said, the views and the possibility of spotting an elephant seal made the trek worth the sweat. I thought we were steaming directly into at least one meltdown but, to our surprise, the kids enjoyed themselves from end-to-end. You might just need to play it by ear.
- Drakes Beach – Deemed one of Point Reyes’ most friendly beaches, Drakes Beach splits the distance between Bear Valley Visitor Center and the lighthouse. During our visit, the beach hosted a professional sand castle building competition. We had every intention of admiring the works but, got pleasantly sidetracked at the Miwok Coast village. By the time we got to Drakes Beach, the “sand castle bashing party” had already taken place. While we were there, we popped out for a quick look around. The beach is as advertised, a long stretch of sand free of shrubs and rocks otherwise peppering the coastline. It’s nothing if not family-friendly. We’re looking forward to a return trip.
- Chimney Rock – Elephant Seal Overlook. Sadly, we didn’t see any seals. Also, we had just been pummeled by the cold wind and, unless the sight was just amazing and life-altering, I don’t think we would have woken our kids from their immediate slumbers regardless.
Ounces = Pounds:
Lots of car time…But as I’m sure you you’ve discovered, that’s not always a bad thing. Driving to each of the main attractions allowed for our using the car as a mobile locker. More, “mountain goat” than “pack mule,” we kept both hands free and concentrated on keeping our children from nose-diving off the edge of rocky bluffs or collapsing hundreds of years of old Native American structures. We brought the carrier for Norah and along with it some water and about a pounds worth of light snacks. About two pounds for lunch and our first aid kit and we were set.
- Traveling with the closest of friends. Traveling with your immediate family is the finest of all experiences. But add to it those friends who are uncomplaining, love your kids as much as you do, and are always “down”…you’ve got a recipe for a special experience. We also observed some “peer pressure” in its most desirable form. Through most of our adventure, at least one of our combined six kids was interested in what we were doing. Even if the other five were burnt out, the interested child wouldn’t hesitate to drag them along until they regained enthusiasm.
- More like a museum, the Bear Valley Visitor Center is the best we’ve yet seen. In case you miss seeing the area’s wildlife, you’re sure to find its taxidermy likeness at the Bear Valley Visitor Center.
- The Coast Miwok Indian Village sparked our children’s interest and imagination. They were Coast Miwok for over an hour.
- Parking at the Lighthouse is scarce and although we were able to get a spot about a mile away, the line of cars waiting for a spot when we were leaving WAS NOT MOVING. Cars lined the sides of the streets, making turning around a non-option. There is a small parking lot near the entrance to the lighthouse trail. Several public transportation options are available from the Bear Valley Visitor Center. Our advice is to take advantage… particularly if it’s a busy weekend.
- The wind. It’s the bay area, so we expected a little bit of wind. But really? The wind howled relentlessly. We wouldn’t let Norah walk for fear a gust would take her over the edge.
- Pack lunches, but don’t feel the need to carry all that you brought. The hikes were easy and short and we were shocked that our always-hungry kids didn’t even ask for snacks along the way.
- We’d collectively decided to eat breakfast at the hotel, pack lunches and snacks and find somewhere reasonable to eat dinner out. Following our visit to the seashore, our friends found a hidden gem near our hotels. Casa Mañana in San Rafael. You’ll think your pulling into the parking lot to get your annual physical but, nope. Nestled directly in the middle of a medical office park is a wonderful little Mexican restaurant serving portions appropriate to post-hike refueling. The outdoor seating was an added plus as it allowed our more restless travelers room to stretch.
Let’s be Real:
ANYONE can do most of this day trip. The lighthouse trek is a bit of a challenge but, the rest is both figuratively and literally “a walk in the park.” It’s the perfect place to start if you’re nervous about the effort required but want to get out to see some of what the National Parks have to offer. You’re never too far from the comforts of your car and your kids won’t even be hiking for long enough to complain.
“Hey Girl” by Billy Currington.
Nope. Just kidding about that. Seriously Billy, I doubt you have a collection of Nelson, Cash, Haggard, and Le Doux but if you did, New Innocents recommends turning it on, and settling in for a moment of self-reflection.
The REAL Soundtrack was The Cello Song by The Piano Guys…I’m going to bet you listen to this once…and then immediately listen to it again. Zero chance you walk away from this post without goose bumps.