Coastal scene from Point Lobos State Reserve
Our destination was Point Lobos State Natural Reserve to the south of Carmel just off Highway 1. On our last visit to Big Sur, we had planned to stop off at the park but, being tight with our cash, we wanted to park outside and walk in. There were no safe spots outside the park so we carried on. This time we were prepared to pay the entrance fee.
We set off before 6 while it was still dark. There was a nip in the air, Fall is upon us. Traffic was surprisingly heavy for a Sunday morning at that time. Within an hour, we were approaching Monterey. It was beginning to get light. Then we ran into fog, which was not unexpected. We hoped the sun would burn it all off in due course.
Of course breakfast was a priority and we stopped at the Barnyard Shopping Village outside Carmel at the From Scratch Restaurant – see previous post. Driving back towards Highway 1 afterwards on Carmel Valley Road, we were surprised to discover that we couldn’t turn left. We assumed there must be another way out of the Barnyard Shopping Village which would have brought us to traffic lights where we would have turned left.
Old whalers cabin in Whalers Cove at Point Lobos Reserve
The entrance to Point Lobos SNR was on our right about a mile further south. There were several cars parked outside but we turned into the park. The entrance fee is $10 per car or $9 for seniors. We happily parted with our $9 and received a brochure, which included a very detailed map. Looking at the map, we decided to head for Whalers Cove first.
The car park was very nearly full but we were lucky to grab the last spot available. This is the only place in the reserve where scuba divers can enter the water and we decided that most of the cars parked there must belong to scuba dives because there were a lot of people walking around in wet suits andy most of the vehicles had scuba gear in the back. According to the Point Lobus SNR, only half of the park can be viewed onland. By scuba diving you see the other half.
Immediately we were struck by the awesome beauty of the place. A sheltered bay was in front of us thick with kelp. We walked back up the road to the old cabin at the side of the road. A plaque outside said it was built by Chinese fishermen in the 1850’s. It is now used as a cultural history museum. Peeking through the window it looked interesting but it didn’t open until 9 am. Just opposite a sign marked the beginning of the Granite Point Trail so that is where we headed.
Sea otter at Point Lobos State Reserve
It was a beautiful trail and so peaceful. The sun had come out and it was quite warm but it felt chilly when walking through the shady parts. Fortunately I had my sweatshirt on. I also had my binoculars and was on the lookout for sea otters as kelp is their favorite feeding ground. I saw no sea otters at that point but I did hear the distinctive tap, tap, tap of an otter probably using a stone to break open a shellfish. The path twisted and turned and a different view was revealed every couple of minutes. From the other side of the bay, I watched a boat pull into the cove and half a dozen scuba divers swam out to it. The first part of the trail is wheelchair accessible and where that part ends there is a conveniently placed bench. If it hadn’t been in the shade I would have taken the opportunity to sit down and take in the view.
Instead we took a less accessible trail down to Coal Chute Point. The point is so named because in the 1870’s coal was discovered nearby. After the coal was mined it was taken first by horse drawn wagons and then loaded into ore carts on a tramway and taken to Coal Chute Point. The water there is very deep and ships could get close to land to take on the coal as it cascaded from the chute. Now there is a a wonderful view of Monterey Bay. It was here I saw my first otters of the day. A pair of them were not far off shore, an adult and lighter colored juvenile. The white face of the adult was clearly visible. They swam on their backs and dived every so often. After one dive the adult appeared with a shellfish in its paws and it turned on its back and swam out of sight. It was a real treat to see them so close. Tom spotted a bird down below, busily probing the rocks. It was black with yellow eyes, a red beak and light pink feet. I’d seen one before at Mendocino and couldn’t work out what it was. This time I tried harder. A lady walking by saw me consulting iBird West on my iPad. She said she thought it was an oyster catcher and with that information I was able to find out that it was a Black Oyster Catcher.
The trail we were on went a little further towards Granite Point and joined up with the Moss Cove Trail but we turned back. The museum in the whalers cabin beckoned us. Inside the cabin Wayne, the volunteer in charge, was happy to talk about the reserve and passed on lots of useful information. The exhibits in the museum displayed not only the cultural history of the area back to when a branch of the Ohlone tribe called Rumsien were in residence for about 2,500 years until the early 1800’s but also the commercially viable industries which sprouted up in the mid 19th century. The first to arrive in the early 1850’s after the Rumsien had disappeared were Chinese fishermen who made the perilous journey across the Pacific in small junks. They set about harvesting abalone which abounded in the ocean. This industry flourished until the 1920’s. In the mid 1850’s a granite quarry was established in Whalers Cove. The car park is now on the site. From the trail you can easily see where the quarry was. Portuguese whalers arrived in the 1860s and that business thrived for over 20 years.
The pristine park we can enjoy today was very nearly a non starter. In the 1890’s a scheme was hatched to sell 1,000 residential lots in the Whalers Cove area. Fortunately an engineer from back East came and fell in love with the area. His name was Alexander Allan. He bought 640 acres and he also set about buying up all the residential lots which had been sold. In the 1920’s, efforts were made to protect the cypress tress which grow here and no where else. First of all Allan sold some of his land to the State of California and later donated a whole lot more and the reserve was born.
The fog rolling in at Point Lobos Sate Reserve
It was time to move on and explore some more of Point Lobos. Our next stop was where both the Sea Lion Point Trail and the Cypress Grove Trail start. The park was getting busier but once again we found a parking place without too much trouble. We decided to take the Cypress Grove Trail and discovered a whole lot more of the attractions to be seen. At the end of this small peninsula is the Allan Memorial Grove. It is a circular trail and we took the counter-clockwise direction. We walked to the first overlook and were surprised to see some fog rolling in which looked like smoke coming off the trees. While I was admiring the view and Tom was busy taking photograps, a group of bird watchers turned up. One of the guys was wearing an Oregon Ducks T-Shirt and he commented on my Oregon Ducks sweatshirt. It always surprises me how many people say ‘Go Ducks’ when they see my sweatshirt. They were a chatty group and as we were leaving someone spotted an Oregon Junco – how appropriate. Apparently it is hard to tell the difference between them and the Yellow Eyed Junco apart from their call.
Further along the trail as we neared North Point it became steeper and the views more spectacular. At Pinnacle Cove there were steps going up and then down on the other side. Although there was fog offshore it was not drifting ashore so the views along the coast were of the Big Sur coastline which has to be seen to be believed. I can see why they call this reserve the ‘jewel of the California state park system’. Back in the car park, we contemplated taking the Sea Lion Point Trail but opted to drive to the end of the road to take in the whole park. The road is a wee bit narrow in places and because folks are so busy looking at the views, they tend to wander into the middle of the road. One has to drive very carefully. At the start of the Bird Island Trail we turned around in the car park and headed back.
We certainly enjoyed our time at the Point Lobos State Reserve and wonder why we had never visited before. I’m sure we will come here again and walk some more of the trails.