Tag Archives: Point Reyes

Point Reyes

Tamales Bay in Point Reyes National Seashore

Tamales Bay in Point Reyes National Seashore

There was no doubt our bed at the National Seashore Lodge was comfortable but the room became really hot during the night. We woke at 7, at which time Tom got up, had a shower, got dressed and went out to take some photographs. I set about seeing if I could turn down the heat, which I did. I also managed to open the windows on either side of the door. At least we would be a bit cooler on our second night.

When Tom returned I was up and dressed and then we went to have breakfast. The Lodge does provide a continental breakfast and we sat and chatted with a young couple who were in Point Reyes to attend a wedding.

We left just after 8.30 and turned left onto Bear Valley Road, drove past the Visitors Center and then left again onto Sir Francis Drake Blvd. The temperature was a chilly 46 when we left but the sun was up and shining and there was no fog. We were heading towards the northern end of Point Reyes to hike the Tomales Point Trail, so were pleased it looked like it would be a good day.

Our journey took us through Inverness. We saw the old boat stuck in the mud just offshore which was slowly becoming more decrepit but we didn’t stop. Tomales Bay looked fantastic. The tide was in and the water glistened in the sun. There were lots of ducks and other wading birds out on the water plus a couple of egrets patiently waiting to catch their breakfast. Tom did stop just past Inverness to take some photos.

Pierce Point Ranch

Point Reyes Beach on the way to Pierce Point Ranch

The view of Point Reyes Beach on the way to Pierce Point Ranch

Not too far from Inverness, we turned right on Pierce Point Road. Almost immediately, off to our left, we had a marvelous view of the blue ocean. The grass and hills were a brilliant green but in a couple of months they will be brown. It is just over 11 miles from Inverness to Pierce Point Ranch and the ride is very scenic with glimpses of Tomales Bay off to the right, the rolling green hills on either side of the road and the occasional historic ranches. No wonder it is called the Pastoral Zone. Early American settlers started dairy farming in Point Reyes in the 1850s and towards the end of that century the production of butter and cheese was a huge business. Now there are still a few dairy ranches operating from several of the historic ranches and even more ranches where beef cattle is raised. The only people living in this vast area are the folks working on the farms and there are certainly more cattle than people. Twice on our journey we saw two cows, in two different locations, which had escaped and were happily grazing alongside the road.

Old rusty farm equipment at Pierce Point Ranch.

Old rusty farm equipment at Pierce Point Ranch.

We crossed a cattle grid and entered the Tule Elk Reserve. When dairy farms were first established in the 1800s tule elk were abundant and roamed freely in California but extensive hunting and the introduction of cattle nearly wiped them out. Tule Elk were thought to be extinct but a small herd of 30 were discovered in Southern California in the 1870s. This small heard were preserved and, from that small number, tulle elk have been reintroduced to many areas in California, including Point Reyes. Not long after entering the reserve we spotted our first group of elk off to the left. We considered ourselves fortunate as sometimes we don’t see any at all.

Pierce Point Ranch appeared as we cornered a bend. With the huge Monterey Cypresses in the background, the white painted buildings stood out. It looked as if they had been given a lick of paint since our last visit but it was an illusion.

There is a small car park at the ranch which appeared full but we found a space. It also serves as the car park for the Tomales Point Trail and we knew most of the occupants of the cars would be hiking. We rarely see many people visiting the ranch itself and today was no exception. The buildings are surrounded by a wooden, grey weathered fence with a grassed area in the middle. The farmhouse is off right at the back.

Margaret catching up on her writing at Pierce Point Ranch.

Margaret catching up on her writing at Pierce Point Ranch.

The first building to catch your attention is the barn. It is possible to investigate the dark interior because plenty of light comes in through the door and between the cracks. It isn’t possible to go inside any of the other buildings but you can peep through the windows. There is a bunkhouse, milking parlor, calf shed, school room and a machine shop. Farm equipment is quietly rusting away and adorned with creeping weeds.

Tom was busy taking photos so I sat on the (very uncomfortable) steps of the bunkhouse, took out my iPad and started writing.

Tomales Point Trail

Calla lily leaves along the Tamales Point Trail

Calla lily leaves along the Tamales Point Trail. This is a black and white version.

The trail is 4.7 miles long and ends at the very end of the peninsula. Then, of course, it is a 4.7 mile walk back to the beginning. As I was busy tapping away, Tom started off on the trail before me. When I caught up with him he was just off the trail photographing calla lilies. We chatted a bit but I then decided to carry on walking because I knew he would want to stop every so often to take photos. My plan was to walk until I came to a bench. I would then sit down, do some writing and wait for Tom to catch up with me.

I know this trail is ablaze with wildflowers in the late spring but spring is  just around the corner and although there were a few wildflowers here and there they could not be described as a ‘blaze of color’. It was a beautiful day for a walk and the views were outstanding. At this early stage of the walk the views were all of the ocean, where sparkling white caps where sprinkled on the bright blue water. McClure Beach, with it’s sandy beach, shimmered to the south and beyond that Point Reyes Bay curved all the way to the Point Reyes Lighthouse. From the trail though I could not see the lighthouse but I it knew it was there.

The time was just 10 o’clock and there was just one couple ahead of me. It was nice to know that there were other people around just in case a mountain lion appeared (an information board at the start of the trail said that mountain lions have been spotted in the area). It would be thrilling to see one but not when I’m walking on my own. I was on the lookout for more elk.

I really enjoyed striding out there on my own and got a bit carried away. When I looked at my watch I realized that it had been an hour since I had last seen Tom. At that point I was climbing up probably the steepest part of the trail. I kept looking back to see if I could see him in the distance. As I was quite high, I could see a fair way back on the trail. At the top of the hill I found a convenient rock to sit on – amazingly there had not been one bench on the trail at all. From my vantage point, and with the aid of my binoculars, I scrutinized the trail. There were quite a few people on their way but I couldn’t Tom. I expected him to be easy to spot because he would be on his own and carrying his tripod, but he did not appear. Every so often I would check out to sea just in case I could spot any water spouts from whales. I also passed the time by greeting folks as they passed. After half an hour there was still no sign of Tom. Every now and again I would ask someone whether they had passed a lone photographer with a tripod. Most people had but then the answers started to be ‘no’.

Herd of tule elk

Herd of tule elk I came across just over a hill. I was some ways off but they immediately knew I was there.

Maybe he had gone back to the car. It was no use trying to phone him because I had no signal on my phone which, of course meant he could not ring me either. It was time to walk back to find out where he was. After less than half a mile I spotted him climbing uphill and was mighty glad to see him. The reason folks had been saying they hadn’t seen him was because he had gone off the trail for a while. He had spotted what he thought might be an elk and went to investigate. Sure enough, he discovered a whole herd of them. They were some distance away and when they became aware off him he backed off. The big stag guarding his harem kept his beady eyes on him.

We carried on walking together, stopping every now and than to admire the view when we found a handy rock to sit on. From our lofty position we could see not only the ocean off to our left but the whole panorama of Tomales Bay to our right. Several little boats were out on the water and we could even see the traffic on the far side of the bay.

We didn’t make it to the end of the trail but estimated we had walked at least half of the 4.7 miles when we decided to turn back. At the point we decided it was time to turn back, we could see the end of the point, the entrance to Tomales Bay and Dillion Beach over to the right.

A bull tule elk checking us out.

A bull tule elk checking us out.

We had amazing luck just after we started our return journey as we spotted a group of tule elk not far away off to our right.  Just after we passed them we had stopped to admire the view once again. When we glanced back the elk were crossing the trail. It was a large group of elk and most of them moved fairly quickly. Some of them lagged behind a little, or maybe they were just stopping to admire the view as well. Eventually they had all crossed and had regrouped. That was the highlight of our day.

The one thing we both commented on as we made our way back to the start that were now far more people on the trail. It was almost a constant stream. Who can blame them though. On such a beautiful day, what better place to be than walking on Point Reyes.

The car park was really full when we finally got back to it. Cars were parked along the road for as far as we could see. As soon as we pulled out of our parking space, another car was waiting to grab it.

Before returning to the Lodge, we stopped off in Inverness for a drink and a late lunch. We had the choice of getting something at the deli; the Blackbird Coffee Shop or Vladimir’s Czech restaurant. We chose the latter. Inside it was cool and dark and we sat at the bar. Tonight we are going out for a meal so we didn’t want a big meal. We were satisfied with a drink of beer and a sample plate of kielbasa sausage, toast, sauerkraut, cucumber, celery and cheese.

After returning to the Lodge for a rest, we finished off the day by driving to Point Reyes Station for a meal at Stellina. As we arrived a little early, we wandered around Tomales Bay Foods and bought a wedge of Wagon Wheel cheese. This was one of the cheeses we had last night and we both liked it.

Stellina Restaurant is the best restaurant in town and it was crowded. Thank goodness we had made a reservation yesterday. While we were waiting for our table, Tom recognized a couple who had already started a meal. It was his cousin Judy and her husband John from Nevada City. What a coincidence, as Nevada City is a long way away in the Gold Country. We had a quick chat with them before we were called to our table. The tables there are pretty close together and we got chatting to the couple at the next table and, guess what, another coincidence, I recognized passing one of the ladies on our hike that morning.

Tom and I enjoy coming to Stellina as the food is really good. For starters we both had the chicory salad with goat cheese. Tom ordered the goat with polenta and braised greens for his main course and I had the grilled sea bass with heirloom cauliflower and golden raisins. Tom commented that he was disappointed with the goat as it was a bit dry whilst my sea bass, on the other hand, was delicious. To finish Tom had two scoops of ice cream and I had their cheese plate. MmmMmm.

 

Olema & Point Reyes Station

Point Reyes Seashore Lodge in Olema, California

Point Reyes Seashore Lodge in Olema, California

Tom and I love Point Reyes. It is about an hours drive from San Francisco but it seems like a million miles away. The whole area is geologically different from the rest of Marin County because the San Andreas fault separates them. Point Reyes is very slowly moving north while the ‘mainland’ moves south. The vegetation is different as well – you will find less trees on Point Reyes.

The whole area is under the protection of the Point Reyes National Seashore and you will discover how unspoiled the whole of it is. There is only one town on the Point Reyes peninsula and that is tiny Inverness. No big box stores or restaurants chains here. What you will see is miles and miles of beautiful scenery, like the sandy beaches, the rocky shores, the sheltered beaches on Tomales Bay, dozens of hiking trails, historic dairy farms, and wildlife galore.

Arriving in Olema, we passed where we would be staying for the next couple of nights. As it was only 12 noon and check in time was 3 pm, we had a couple of hours to kill. What better place to spend it then to drive on into Point Reyes Station.

Point Reyes Station

Olema Creek which flows past the Point Reyes Seashore Lodge

Olema Creek which flows past the Point Reyes Seashore Lodge

We decided to drive into Point Reyes Station, which is under three miles from Olema.  Although neither Point Reyes Station nor Olema are technically in Point Reyes, they are considered the gateways to it. We parked on one of the back streets and took a walk down the main shopping street. Our first stop was at Marty Knapp’s Photo Gallery. Marty specializes in black and white photography. The walls are lined with scenes of Point Reyes. Just recently he has been taking photographs of old barns and they were stunning. Marty and Tom had a long talk about the Sony Nex-7 camera which Marty had recently acquired. Tom has been talking about that camera just recently. Apparently it has many advantages as it is not only mirror less but much smaller and lighter than a digital SLR. Marty showed Tom his camera and even let him hold it. How long, I wonder before Tom buys one like it?

Afterwards we ambled across the road to Toby’s Feed Barn and bought a couple of birthday cards. Then we crossed back over the road to the Western Saloon for a pint of bitter at the bar (mine was a shandy). This is a good old fashioned bar and we recognized the barmaid from our last few visitors.  Later we meandered northwards to the bookstore where we spent 45 minutes looking at the books for sale. Point Reyes Books always has interesting books and I bought a paperback called ‘Sheepish’ by Catherine Friend, which is a non fiction about the trials and tribulations of raising sheep on a small holding.

Olema

A friendly robin welcomed us at the Point Reyes Seashore Lodge

A friendly robin welcomed us at the Point Reyes Seashore Lodge

It is possible for us to drive there and back to Point Reyes in a day but then our time is limited in the area. By staying there a couple of nights it meant that Tom can get up early and catch the early morning light.  We had booked two nights at the Point Reyes Seashore Lodge  in Olema, which is right on the junction of Highway One and Sir Frances Drake Highway.

It was just after two when we arrived at the Point Reyes Seashore Lodge and parked the car. We hoped that we could check in early but our room was not ready. We were invited to wait in their very nice lobby or games room or we could sit in the garden. As the weather was just right for sitting outside, we decided on the garden. Someone would come and find us when our room was ready.

The garden was lovely. The lawn sloped down to the Olema Creek and a line Adirondack chairs sat invitingly at the top of the lawn. Shade trees lined the edge of the lawn. I took one of the Adirondack chairs in the sunshine and Tom chose a bench under the shade of a tree. He took out his tablet and read while I fished my iPad out of the pack and started to write. It was was calm and peaceful there. In between bouts of writing I was amused by a young boy down at the edge of the creek with his mother.

Just before 3 we were called to check in. There are 22 rooms at the Lodge and we had booked one of the Terrace Rooms. It was was really nice room with a Jacuzzi big enough for two. Outside we had our own secluded and sheltered patio, complete with two Adirondack chairs. We spent the afternoon just relaxing.

For dinner we decided to try out the Farm House Restaurant, which is part of the Lodge and only a short walk away. Just inside there is a bar and a fairly large restaurant at the back. I was surprised at how crowded it was but we got a table straightaway. Most of the items on the menu were produced locally. I had the Herbs de Provence roasted chicken with grilled asparagus and cheese au gratin potatoes with Bourbon pecan sauce ($21) and Tom had the Dungeness crab salad sandwich on sour dough with fries ($17). I really enjoyed my meal whereas Tom was not impressed at all with his. To finish we shared the local cheese plate which had four small portions of different cheeses – three soft (including one goat cheese) and one firm. I didn’t catch the names and makers of the soft cheese but the firm one was Wagon Wheel which is made by the nearby Cowgirl Creamery.

It was time for an early night at the end of another perfect day.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Muir Beach & Stinson Beach

Muir Beach

Muir Beach

We were off to enjoy a weekend in Point Reyes. Our plan was to take our time getting there because we wanted to explore a few places which we not visited before, like Muir and Stinson beaches in Marin. There was no rush to get to Point Reyes as we couldn’t check into our lodging until 3 in the afternoon.

(Click on the photos for larger versions)

As usual, we were on the road before daybreak, which meant we were enjoying our early morning coffee on Geary in the city before 7 o’clock. We usually stop at Peet’s but today, for a change, we tried out a coffee shop one block down on the corner of Geary and 17th called Royal Ground Coffee. It was certainly different from Peet’s – larger, less modern, quieter and funky. We were served straight away. Tom had a medium black coffee for $1.65 and I had a medium cafe latte for $2.65. A large choice of cookies, pastries and bagels tempted us but we resisted because we plan to stop in Stinson Beach for breakfast. We sat right in the window and had a good view of Geary waking up as it became lighter. Must comment on the murals in the coffee house as they were large and added to the general funkiness of the place. One mural depicted San Francisco streets and the other a Mediterranean village.

Half an hour later we were driving over the Golden Gate Bridge. At this time of year the bridge is more often than not shrouded in fog but that was not the case on this occasion. A few hardy tourists were walking over the bridge but there were more joggers and cyclists around.

We decided to take the scenic route north by turning off 101 onto Highway One towards Stinson Beach and along the coast. The drive towards the ocean twists and turns with alternating views inland of the Marin headlands and glimpses of the Pacific Ocean. We turned left when we reached the Pelican Inn and took the road to Muir Beach.

Muir Beach

Mailboxes

95 Mailboxes on the way to Muir Beach. Margaret counted them.

I had never been to Muir Beach before so this was a new experience for me. The road to the beach is short but full of potholes. The area is part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area so there was no charge to park the car. At that time of the morning there were only a couple of cars in the car park. When we got out of the car the temperature was 57 degrees but there was a chilly wind. My first stop had to be the notice board and was interested to read that river otters had been spotted very recently. The route towards the beach crossed a footbridge over the Redwood Creek and I stopped to see if I could spot any otters. It was an idyllic scene and appeared to be a perfect location for river otters but, alas, I was to be disappointed.

Once over the bridge we turned right on a trail which took us to the beach and/or an overlook. We could have turned left onto  another trail which led uphill. Muir Beach is a pretty little beach and at that time of the morning the only people on it were a couple walking their dog. It seems an ideal beach for families because not only is it sheltered but  there was nice sand to play on and rocks to the south where I am sure there are rock pools at low tide. We stayed on the trail which led uphill to the overlook. On the ridge to the north the homes of Muir Beach clung to the hillside. The higher up the hill the  larger the homes became. All of them had spectacular views over the beach and to the south.

Up on the bluff the wind blew straight through us so we didn’t stay long, even though there was a convenient bench to sit on. We made our way back to the bridge to head to Stinson Beach where we planned to stop for breakfast. When we reached the junction with Highway One we noticed a line of mail boxes opposite and Tom couldn’t resist stopping to take a photo. I had never seen so many mail boxes in one place and had to count them – there were 95 of them. And what a collection – old; new; large; small; shiny; rusty; plain; decorated and painted.

Heading to Stinson Beach on Highway 1

Looking south on the way to Stinson Beach along Highway 1

The stretch of Highway One between the Pelican Inn and Stinson Beach is really scenic. There were many ‘Wow’ moments. The view over Stinson Beach as we rounded the last headland was like looking at a picture postcard. We saw a very long, sandy beach, cabins almost on the beach, a life guard stand and, in the distance, another ridge with houses dotted along it.

For breakfast we stopped at The Breakers Cafe on the main street. We have eaten here before and enjoyed it so we were keen to see if there had been any changes. On my last visit I had the oatmeal and remembered it had been really good so went for it again. It comes with walnuts, dates and cranberries. On the last occasion in January 2011 it cost $7.95 (but without dates)  and this time it was $8.95. Tom ordered something different – Rockys Omelet ($11.95) with chicken, corn and cheese. The coffee was $2.50 and I had orange juice ($3). The food remained as enjoyable as before.

Last time I remarked that there was a nautical theme about the decoration but I wasn’t so conscious of it this time. The paintings of the old woodies and the black and white photos of local scenes (plus the scantily dressed man and the policemen) are still there.  There was a large colorful Mexican hat on the wall and I’m not sure if  that was there last time.  One thing was missing, however, and that was the collage made up of white plastic rubbish and the mermaid, which is a shame. The restroom hadn’t changed a bit.

Stinson Beach

Stinson Beach

Stinson Beach

After breakfast we made our way to the beach. Here we found a large car park. There were already quite a few cars there but room for many more. One van caught my attention as it had a had a mermaid and an octopus painted on it. On the way to the beach we passed two surfers, still dripping wet, on the way back to their car.

The long sandy beach stretched north in front of us. Although there were lots of people and activity going on, it was by no means crowded. There were lots of people just walking along the beach, quite a few with dogs;  families sitting on the beach; fishermen standing up to their knees in the water and surfers further out in Bolinas Bay. Happy children were building sandcastles and there was one young chap and his Dad having a whale of a time using toy dumper trucks and  wheelbarrows to help them move the sand.

Tom took his time stopping to take photographs so I happily wandered along the hard packed sand drinking in the moment. The weather was absolutely perfect and one would think it was summertime. My sweatshirt came off and even then I was hot and thinking I should have put sun block on. There were cabins and houses, some of them on stilts, built right on the beach and a lot of them had occupants. I could see people sitting on patio chairs enjoying coffee and the view. At one point I spotted a tsunami siren set back between the buildings. The scene was idyllic but I guess they get bad weather in the winter if the number of sandbags around is anything to go by. Further along the beach sand dunes fringed the beach and the roofs of cabins could be seen behind the dunes.

Stinson Beach. Everybody was having fun.

Stinson Beach. Everybody was having fun.

It was a blissful morning listening to the muted sounds of conversation now and then from fellow walkers and the mesmerizing music of the surf  lapping the shore. A group of sandpipers were busy probing the sand for their lunch. I noticed there were lots of different colored pebbles on the beach but the ones that really caught my attention were a striking black and white with swirly lines. Tom joined me and we wandered a bit further northwards. My aim had been to walk right to the end of the beach, where the small town of  Bolinas is situated less than a quarter of a mile away across the narrow entrance to the Bolinas Lagoon, but we decided to turn back because it was getting too hot and we didn’t have any water with us.

There were more people now on the beach and I was sure by lunchtime it would be crowded. At the northern end of the beach, dogs are allowed to run free and there were lots of dogs having the time of their lives. Groups of dog owners were chatting together as their dogs frolicked in and out of the water and chased each other around. When a ball was thrown they all raced madly after it. There was one dog who ran faster and jumped higher than all the others and caught the ball before it landed either on the sand or in the water.  It was amusing to see them all play so happily together.

Back in the car, we continued our journey to Point Reyes. We drove along the scenic shore of the Bolinas Lagoon. The tide was out and there were huge stretches of mud flats where there were an array of wading birds taking advantage of the easy pickings. We drove though Dogtown -blink and you’ll miss it -and saw the first sign for Point Reyes National Seashore and then one for Olema Valley. This is a favorite route for cyclists, and the going was very slow for a couple of miles as a horse box in front of us was unwilling to overtake the cyclists. We still were not in any hurry so we just enjoyed the drive and the scenery. Before long we arrived in Olema, where we will be staying for a couple of nights.

 

 

 

 

Point Reyes Open Studios

Golden Gate Bridge. 75 years young.

Golden Gate Bridge. 75 years young.

It’s was Sunday of the Memorial Day Weekend and there were a lot of events going on but the biggest celebrations were to honor the 75th birthday of the Golden Gate Bridge. One of the events planned was a performance by the Golden Gate Brass Band using actual pieces of the bridge as percussion instruments for their performance of  “A Concert Overture for Brass, Steel Girders and Suspension Cables.” The culmination of the birthday celebration was a huge firework display on the bridge and nearby barges that evening during which time the bridge would be closed to cars, cyclists and pedestrians. Our trip was to Point Reyes, where the Open Studios Weekend is taking place Saturday through Monday, so we left really early to avoid delays.

(Click on the photos for larger versions)

The journey went smoothly and at 7 am we crossed the iconic bridge and she looked beautiful. We never cease to be awed and amazed by it and of the view from it of the bay, the city, Acaltraz and Angel Islands and the scenery all around. We stopped in San Anselemo for breakfast and arrived in Olema at 9 am. None of  the studios opened until 11 am so we had a couple of hours to spare. To kill time we we drove along the west side of Tomales Bay to Inverness where we stopped to check on the old boat called Point Reyes which has been stuck in a mudbank for many years. Slowly over the years we have watched it disintegrate. On this trip we couldn’t cross the little creek to get close to it because the water was too deep and the path extremely muddy but Tom stayed on the other side and spent 45 minutes taking photos of the boat.

The old Point Reyes on Tamales Bay

The old Point Reyes on Tamales Bay

To idle away another hour we sat in the Blackbird Cafe in Inverness, Tom with a cup of coffee and me with a hot chocolate.  We found a copy of the brochure detailing all the open studios, the artists names and addresses and a brief description of their expertise. When we we headed back to the car I spotted a man carrying bagpipes walking towards the shore. Before long he started up his instrument and gave an impromptu concert to Tomales Bay and we stood and listened for a while. He was such an unexpected sight and I thoroughly enjoyed listening to his playing.

Just after 11 we set off to our first open studio, which just happened to be a short drive from Inverness. We took a right off Sir Francis Drake Blvd and drove up a steep, narrow, private road to the studio of Bruce Mitchell  who is a wood carver extraordinaire.  Even though it was only a few minutes after 11, there were already two other cars there. His studio is a barnlike structure with a display inside of some of his smaller carvings. Outside were a few of his much larger pieces of works, one of which is weathering nicely to a pleasant silvery color. Bruce himself was busy talking to one of the other visitors but Tom and I were happy to walk around and admire his work. On the wall was a certificate announcing that one of his works was on permanent loan to the Smithsonian.  When I got home I checked online and, in fact, he has two pieces on permanent loan to the American Art Museum. He had a couple of black pieces which interested me. I did have an opportunity to ask Bruce about them and he told me they had been spray painted. There is just something about wood, especially smooth wood with an interesting grain, which demands to be touched.

Playing the bagpipes on a beautiful morning on Tamales Bay

Playing the bagpipes on a beautiful morning on Tamales Bay

Our next stop was at the home of  the husband and wife team of Richard Blair  and Kathleen Goodwin. To get to them we had to return to the main road and take another right onto Drake’s View. This time we had to drive further up the hill and Tomales Bay looked a long way below us. When we parked the car we were met by two dogs; a very friendly retriever and a young German Shepherd. They seemed to know where we wanted to go and led us to the door of the studio. Then the German Shepherd turned to growl at the retriever. I opened the door a little way to ask if it was OK for the dogs to come in. Kathleen met us at the door and said that only the German Shepherd lived there but the retriever lived down the road and always ate their dog’s food so it wasn’t allowed to come in. No wonder she growled at the other dog!

Just a barn on the outskirts of Point Reyes Station

Just a barn on the outskirts of Point Reyes Station

Richard and Kathleen are both photographers and have many photographs on display and prints for sale. Most of their photographs have been taken in and around Point Reyes but there are some from further afield from places like Africa, England, Bali and New York. There werea couple I particularly liked – one taken by Kathleen of a group of men in a bus shelter in Aylsham, England and one by Richard taken in a railway station waiting room in New York. Kathleen is also a painter of watercolors and I loved some of her very simple landscape prints. As well as a studio, it is Richard and Kathleen’s home. We were the first visitors of the day and were able to chat with both of them individually. Tom and Richard spent quite a bit of time talking about photography while I checked out all the prints displayed in bins and which were for sale and some of their books on a table. The books I found fascinating as they were a collaboration of their photographic work and writing. We bought one of the books called ‘Point Reyes Visions’ and they both signed it for us. I happened to glance out of one of the windows into a courtyard and saw a bird feeder. On it was a beautiful, sparrow like bird I’d never seen before so I asked Kathleen what it was and she told me it was a spotted Towhee. More visitors arrived so we took our leave.

Pelican Studio was our next destination, which was further down Drake’s View. Colorful flags led us to Katherine Williams studio and home. The front door was really unusual and I just wish we had taken a photo of it. Inside Katherine welcomed us into her beautiful home with stunning views over the Olema Valley. Katherine is a charming lady and we had an interesting conversation with her not onlyabout her photography but other ventures she has undertaken, including printing for other artists.  According to the card she gave me, Pelican Studio also designs websites. We wandered around looking at some of her nature photos displayed on easels and really liked a lot of them but one caught our eye and we bought a cute print of three quail sitting in a bush for $25.

The next studio, which was right around the corner from Katherine, was the home of Gary Smith. An usual brick path led us to the front door where the soft spoken Gary Smith greeted us. The brochure told us that Gary specializes in prints, pastels and silverpoints. I had no idea about silverpoint and asked Gary what it was. He not only told us and showed us examples of his work but he also demonstrated the technique. In a nutshell, it is creating a picture using special coated paper and a pencil like implement where, instead of graphite, silver wire is used. The effect is soft and ethereal. Using this method he has produced a lot of almost surreal landscapes. We bought three cards for $7 but I knew it would be hard to ever use them. From the window I admired his garden and he took us it onto his deck. Looking down from the deck we could see more curvy brick paths, interesting plants and trees. It was all very colorful. Gary told us that he built the house and landscaped the garden himself 25 years ago.

Doorway that caught our attention in Point Reyes Station

Doorway that caught our attention in Point Reyes Station

Time was getting on and we wanted to visit Point Reyes Station. It was by now the middle of the afternoon and parking was at a premium. We wanted to visit Marty Knapp‘s studio on 3rd Street and were fortunate to find a parking spot nearby. We were right on the edge of Point Reyes Station looking out over meadows. Tom spotted an interesting barn and wanted to take some photographs. A footpath beckoned us to venture across the meadow and we gladly set out. The footpath led to other footpaths which criss-crossed the meadow. One day we must return and explore them. The barn is impressive and we wandered around it. I spotted an information board and headed to it and read that the land used to be wetlands but back in the 1940′s levees were built and the land became a dairy farm. The Giacomini family owned a lot of land in the area and this section was called in Waldo Giacomini Rance. In 2000 the National Park Service bought the land and the Giacomini Wetlands Restoration Project began to reclaim the wetlands by breeching the levees. The project has been a success and the number of waterbird species have increased dramatically. It is now a beautiful unspoilt area at the southern end of Tomales Bay.

We walked back to Marty Knapp’s studio. He used to have a studio in Olema and then he moved to the eastern side of Point Reyes but now his studio is on 3rd Street  just a couple of blocks from his gallery in the middle of Point Reyes Station. Marty specializes in black and white photography and we often visit his shop to check out what is new. On this occasion we didn’t get much of a chance to see too much in his studio because it was so crowded we could hardly move around at all. So we called it a day but before we drove home we visited The Grand Show in the gallery at the back of Toby’s Feed Barn on Highway 1 where a piece of work from each of the 21 artists taking part in this weekend was displayed.

Time to drive home but we took the precaution of avoiding the Golden Gate Bridge, because of the celebrations which were taking place, and went via the Richmond Bridge and 880. The end of another perfect day.

 

 

 

 

Dogtown, Marin County Part 3

Tomales Bay.  I always liked this building.

Tomales Bay. I always liked this building.

It was raining once again when we woke up. We stayed in bed drinking coffee and tea. I read about the history of the ranch and Dogtown in a brochure found in the loft which was compiled by Anne and Russ.  It contained both personal memories, photos and newspaper articles. The original inhabitants were the Coast Miwok Indians. The land became part of a Mexican land grant which was called Rancho Baulines and given to Gregorio Briones in 1846. In the 1850′s a thriving settlement named Woodville grew up around a sawmill. One of the descendents of Gregorio Briones lived on the property during the first half of the 1900′s. Lots from the Rancho Baulines began to be sold off in the 1950′s. In the 1960′s the property was bought by a couple who built the original house. There were two more owners of the property before Annue and Russ bought it in 1992 after reading a small ad in the local paper.

(Click on the photos for larger versions)

Dogtown acquired it name in the latter part of the 20th century due to the number of dogs local hunters owned. In the early 1900′s the name was changed to Woodville because the residents, mostly lumberjacks and miners, wanted a more decorous name. In the early 1970′s another resident petitioned and won the right to change the name back to it’s original name of Dogtown.

This was the day of our ninth anniversary. My present to Tom was this weekend. His present to me was a lovely new watch. I lost my previous watch back in May when we were in Grass Valley for the weekend. This new watch has a titanium strap and is gorgeous.

Lying in bed I could see the bare patches in the corrals were now extremely muddy. The horses don’t seem unduly concerned about the rain. Again we heard them pawing the floor of the barn while they waited for their breakfast.

Over breakfast we discussed where to go that day. We had the same dilemma as yesterday, except all of the trails would be even muddier today. We decided to head to Point Reyes and Drakes Bay. We planned to take a walk along the beach where we would be protected from the elements as the beach does not face the open ocean.

The sun was shining when we left with lots of blue patches in the sky. It feels a bit cooler than yesterday though. Hopefully the rain would stay away until later in the afternoon. Once again we drove north along Highway 1. Everything looked clean and fresh after the recent rains but the grass is very wet. The sun makes all the difference, giving a sparkling effect as its rays reflect off drops of water on the leaves of trees and bushes.

At Olema we turned left making our way past the road to Bear Valley Visitor Center and past a road to Olema Marsh. Even though we left a lot later than usual, there were not too many cars on the road. I expect the rain had dampened the spirits of the tourists.

Mountains of oyster shells at Drakes Bay Oyster Farm

Mountains of oyster shells at Drakes Bay Oyster Farm

Passing Rogers Ranch brought back memories of our visit in September. We could not see any chickens out in the field today but saw some of the grass fed beef. We took the short detour to Drakes Bay Oyster Farm. The drive skirts Schooner Bay and there were quite a few ducks and coots on the water and egrets standing in the water  close to shore. As we got out of the car we saw an egret very close. Too close in fact because as soon as we started to walk it flew away. It land a short way away and just behind it stood a blue heron. Tom, of course, had to take some photos.

Afterwards we walked towards the shop. Tom carried on towards the mound of oyster shells. Another photo op. I went into the shop. The oysters here were cheaper than the ones on sale at Tomales Bay Oyster Company. I told the girl behind the counter that I had never had a raw oyster and she was glad to answer my questions. She explained they came in four sizes, small, medium, large and extra large. The smaller ones are younger and best eaten raw. The larger ones are older and best cooked. She told me how to open them. Special shucking knives were on sale there but a butter knife or screwdriver would work just as well. Oysters should be opened with the side on top so the juices stay in the bottom. The knife should be inserted into the gap and worked around a bit and then twisted to open the shell fully. The oyster dies as soon as it is exposed to the air. It is attached to the shell at the bottom and this has to be cut free. They can be eaten by just swallowing them almost whole but that seems such a waste to me. How can you know what they taste like? The girl told me she likes to chew them a bit before swallowing. She also recommended serving them with a squeeze of lemon or tomato sauce. As I was determined to try oysters on this trip, I bought half a dozen small ones. The girl put them in a bag with lots of ice.

The beach at Drakes Bay.  The scene hasn't changed much since the days when Sir Francis Drake landed.

The beach at Drakes Bay. The scene hasn't changed much since the days when Sir Francis Drake landed.

Our next stop was Drakes Bay. The wind whipped the door out of my hand when I opened it so decided to put my warm, fleecy jacket on. Tom being more hardy, didn’t bother with a jacket. Even though it was chilly the sun felt warm.

I wandered down the beach, which is long, curved and sandy. Along the edge of the shore a host of birds were busy. The sanderlings were probing with their long bills into the sand and seemed to be having a lot of success. There was also a flock of dunderlings busily running around. It is so amusing to watch them. They stand near the edge of the water in a group with their backs to the water. When the next wave roles in, they wait until it has nearly reached then and then collectively they take off, running just in front of the water and chirping excitedly like day old chicks. It’s like watching a group of silly little girls who love to be frightened by the water by running away from it and squealing at the same time as though they love to be scared. I stood watching for a good ten minutes before I moved off.

The cliffs here are very fragile and resemble compacted mud. It looks very much like shale but lighter in color. It reminded me of the cliffs in Lyme Regis in the UK, which are good for fossil hunting but try as hard as I could there were no fossils between the thin layers. The rock, if that is what it is, is fragile and almost crumbles to the touch. As I walked along the bottom of the cliffs every so often there would be a clatter as a scattering of rocks came lose and tumbled down to the sand.

This is where it is reputed Sir Francis Drake spent a few months back in 1579 when he stopped on the circumnavigation of the globe to repair his ship, the Golden Hind. He wrote that the cliffs reminded him of the White Cliffs of Dover. He claimed the area for Queen Elizabeth I and named it New Albion.

Just mesmerized by the waves, the sun and Drakes Beach.

Just mesmerized by the waves, the sun and Drakes Beach.

I almost had the place to myself as I wandered further on down the beach. When I came to an area with a flat rock extending into the sea I walked out onto it. It was full of little rock pools but there were no crabs or small fish lurking in them. The waves breaking just offshore were magnificent to watch, Rising and curling before toppling over, the waves rushed to the shore. It was a wonderful place to be with the sun shining down and warming me up.

Tom caught up with me and we spent about ten minutes just contemplating the crashing waves and enjoying the scenery. We then made our way back towards the car. We were walking into the wind and talking became difficult.

Back in the car park, Tom put his camera away and we walked to the cafe which is right on the beach. There is also a visitors center though we did not go inside. We did read a series of information boards in a small courtyard about Sir Francis Drake and they were interesting. In the cafe we bought a couple of hot chocolates and sat outside on the patio in the sunshine. Fortunately we were sheltered from the wind. It was great, just sitting there enjoying our drinks and soaking in the views.

Afterwards we climbed up the small headland called the Peter Behr Overlook. The climb to the top did not take long but it was very steep.  The view from the top encompassed the whole Drakes Bay so the effort was worth it.

At 1.30 we started back to the ranch. For a late lunch we ate the oysters. Tom struggled valiantly to open them and I tasted my first ever raw oyster. It was not at all as I expected it. I imagined the oyster to be bigger, plumper and whiter and did not realise there would so much liqud that went with it. The liquid though tasted just like sea water. The taste of the oysters was not unpleasant but not something I would want to eat every day.

Just after 4.30 we set off towards Point Reyes Station but before we left we had to give the horses a snack. They wolfed down the carrots in no time at all. We arrived at Point Reyes Station just before 5 and filled up with gas before heading for Point Reyes Books to spend the interim time browsing books before heading to Osteria Stellina for dinner. Once again we had an amazing meal. I had roasted brussels sprouts and toasted hazelnuts to start with, followed by pork tenderloin, potato gratin and kale; finishing up with the three artisan cheese dish. Tom had something completely new for the starter – marrow bone jelly with capers and lemons. His main dish was ahi tuna with mixed vegetables and he finished up with chocolate cake. To drink Tom had a glass of red wine and I a glass of chardonnay. While I was eating the cheeses, our server brought me a glass of port as a complimentary drink. He asked Tom if he would like one as well and he of course said yes. All in all it was another fantastic meal at the Osteria Stellina and a perfect way to round off our anniversary weekend.

Dogtown, Marin County – Part 2

The view from our bedroom at Woodville Ranch

The view from our bedroom at Woodville Ranch

During the night it rained heavily. Several times we woke up and each time we could hear the rain steadily falling. It was so nice to be snuggled up in bed.

At 7 we were woken by the sound of the horses moving below us in the barn. It was breakfast time for them. Outside it was still overcast and we could hear water dripping from the eaves but the heavy rain had ceased.

We decided to go into Bolinas for breakfast. There is only one cafe in the town – The Coast Cafe- and that is where we headed. We have had breakfast here several times but it must be under new management. It’s called brunch now not breakfast and the menu has definitely gone upmarket. I had French Toast with organic pears with a side of apple chicken sausage and Tom had Fish Tacos. Our food was good if a little pricey.

When I planned this weekend, it was with the idea that we could be doing a lot of hiking. But the rain during the night made a change of plan necessary. All the trails would be too muddy now. We ended up taking a drive north along Highway 1 to Bodega Bay.

Our first stop was by the Bolinas Lagoon. The day was beginning to brighten up and there were bits of blue sky to be seen. The outside temperature was only 52 degrees though. The lagoon was beautiful. This time our view had the hills in the background.

Our next stop was just before the Woodville Ranch. I wanted to get a photo of the green Dogtown sign (see part 1 for a photo of the sign). The population was originally 30 but it had been crossed out several times. The total population is now 33.

The views towards Olema and Point Reyes Station were outstanding. The recent rains had turned the grass green. On one side of the road is the Point Reyes Natural Seashore and on the right the Golden Gate National Recreation Area. Everything is pristine. We drove through Olema and then Point Reyes Station, the latter being busier than the former. Today Point Reyes Station were holding its weekly farmers market. All along the way were trail heads. Point Reyes is a walker’s paradise. So many places to explore.

Tomales Bay Oyster sign along Highway One

Tomales Bay Oyster sign along Highway One

We stopped at the Tomales Bay Oyster Company where it was a hive of activity. Oysters were being brought in from the beds, placed into large tanks to be rinsed and then sorted into sizes. A dozen small oysters sell for $10 and a dozen large for $18. The oyster beds are out in the bay and are clearly marked with colored buoys. We were chatting with one of the oyster sorters. They were expecting a busy day. The sun was shining and they were planning on a lot of customers that day. They have lots of picnic tables, all with their own BBQs. I guess people come, buy the raw oysters, cook them and then eat them. In fact several groups were already arriving and laying claim to their tables and starting to light BBQs.

Highway 1 swings inland for a bit and we were driving along by the side of a creek. In the small town of Tomales we took a detour to go see Dillon Beach. There were some amazing views of the Point Reyes headland and the entrance to Tomales Bay. We stopped by some rock formations so Tom could take photos. I stayed in the car because I could hear the wind whistling around the car.

It didn’t take long from there to reach Dillon Beach. It is a small town with narrow streets. There was only one place to park but the charge was $7, which seemed an awful lot of money for a five minute stop. We carried on driving to the end of the road and ended up at Lawson’s Landing. The road dead ended at a trailer park with an entrance fee. We turned around. Driving back through Dillon Beach, we had to slow down to negotiate a couple of the bends because two pickups towing trailers were taking up most of the road.

Instead of retracing our steps to Tomales, we took a short cut back to Highway 1 along Valley Ford Road. This time the spectacular views were inland and we could see for miles. At the small hamlet of Valley Ford we turned right onto Highway 1.

Western sandpipers hunkering down waiting for the storm to arrive

Western sandpipers hunkering down waiting for the storm to arrive.

Bodega Bay is a strange place. We never found a downtown as such with shops. Along the shore there were lots of restaurants with their own parking lots but there was nowhere we could stop to look around. We drove to the end of the town and then turned towards Bodega Head. We did park for a while in the marina but didn’t stay long. The weather was beginning to deteriorate. At a small inlet at the beginning of the marina was a mud flat. A host of water and wading birds were busy searching for food but what amazed us were a flock western sandpipers.  At first they were difficult to spot as they blended in with the vegetation but they were all standing facing in the same direction and hardly moving. They were bracing themselves for a storm.

We headed back to Dogtown. The rain started to come down as soon as we left Bodega Bay. We could see down towards Tomales Bay a huge rain cloud and the rain falling in the distance.  We thought about the Tomales Bay Oyster Company and thought they would not be too happy.

In Point Reyes Station we stopped to buy food for our evening meal. We bought wine, olive oil, spinach and bread at the Palace Market on the main street; cheese at the the Cowgirl Creamery on 4th Street and a small filet mignon and a rib eye steak in the Marin Sun Farm butcher’s shop.

Tom cooked our meal and it was superb. We finished the bottle of wine and chatted while the rain beat down. We were content.

Dogtown, Marin County – Part 1

Dogtown, California

Dogtown, California. Population 30, oops, I mean 33

For an anniversary surprise I booked a weekend away in Dogtown. Everybody I told had no idea where Dogtown was. In fact I had never heard of it until I picked up a book at Point Reyes Books in Point Reyes Station on our last visit. It was called ‘The Dogtown Chronicles – Our Life and Times with Sheep, Goats, Llamas, and other Creatures’ by Doris Ober. It was a fascinating read about a couple in Dogtown and their animals. When I went online to find out more about Dogtown, I found a vacation rental, The Loft at Woodville Ranch, and decided it would be the perfect location to spend our anniversary.

Update 1/21/2013: Sorry to say that the loft is no longer available.

(Click on the photos for larger versions)

Where is Dogtown I hear you ask? It is on Highway 1 just north of Bolinas. When we set off after the rush hour on Friday morning, Tom had no idea where we were heading. After crossing the Golden Gate Bridge, I told him to take the Highway 1 exit towards Stinson Beach. That narrowed the choice of our eventual destination.

The forecast for the weekend was not very promising. Rain was likely Saturday, Sunday and Monday. That Friday morning it was overcast and once in Marin it started to rain.

We stopped at the Pelican Inn for a drink and hurried inside out of the rain. The Pelican Inn is the nearest to a British pub I’ve seen in California. The bar is small and the furniture, with its pew like seats around the wall and small round wooden tables, feels like home away from home. The barmaid even knew what a shandy was without me having to explain how to make it. On the walls were black and white photos of the Royal family from a few years ago. A sign in the restroom amused me which warned that the plumbing was ‘Authentic English Tudor style.’ Obviously tongue in cheek as there was no such thing as plumbing in Tudor times. A mass communal pit would have been more authentic.

Bolinas Lagoon

The beautiful Bolinas Lagoon

It had stopped raining by the time we left The Pelican Inn and we enjoyed the ride along Highway One. The road twisted and turned with occasional glimpses of the ocean. Even though it was still overcast we were able to see the Farallon Islands quite clearly.

Tom thought our destination would be Stinson Beach but we drove straight through. The tide was in and the Bolinas Lagoon was full. It was an amazing ride driving the length of the lagoon and observing all the birds on the water. We drove past the turning to Bolinas and Tom was puzzled. Where else was there to go? The next stop, he thought, was Olema.

When I saw the small green sign which announced we were entering ‘Dogtown – population 30, I told him to get ready to turn left. Then when I saw the sign saying ‘Woodville Ranch’ I asked Tom to turn into the drive. We had arrived. To the left stood the main house and ahead was the barn. Our home for the next three days would be the loft above the barn.

The Loft at Woodville Ranch

The Loft at Woodville Ranch. Beautiful setting, beautiful place. Everything was perfect.

We knocked at the door of the main house. The door opened and Anne Sands greeted us. She took us to the barn and showed us the loft. On the way we saw the beautiful Arabian horses who reside there. The loft is a marvelous place – long and with lots of windows. At each end there are long windows which stretch from the ceiling nearly to the floor. In the bedroom, a four poster bed and antique furniture. There was a full size kitchen, a small eating area and a sitting room. Everything you could wish for in a holiday home.

Anne explained that there were a couple of stores in Bolinas, including a co-op behind the community hall which sold local organic produce. I asked about nearby walking trails and she showed me some beautiful, hand drawn maps of the property and surrounding area. There were a couple of trails on the property and many more in Point Reyes National Seashore.

After we’d settled in, we drove into Bolinas along Mesa Road. One of the maps was of Bolinas and showed that the Coastal Trail starts at the end of Mesa Road. Mesa Road turns into a gravel roadway running past the Point Reyes Bird Observatory and ended in a car park. We ventured only a little way along the trail. We would have liked to have gone further as it looked interesting but we thought it was gong to rain. We did go of on a short spur which led to a fabulous view from the top of a ridge overlooking the ocean. The Farallon Islands, although still visible, were slowing disappearing into the mist.

trunk of a eucalyptus tree

Foot of a giant prehistoric creature or the trunk of a eucalyptus tree?

We felt raindrops as we made our way back to the car and we were able to reach it before we got too wet. When we got to the sign for the bird observatory I noticed it said ‘Visitors Welcome’, so we turned into the driveway. At the end was a car park and a Visitors Center. Inside there was a lot of information of the work they do there to catch and band birds. They use a misting net. Most mornings the activities can be viewed but not at 4 in the afternoon unfortunately. We walked around the small museum with, amongst other things, a collection of bird skulls. On display were the skulls of a pelican right down to a hummingbird. It was amazing to see how small and fragile the skull of a hummingbird is. They also have guided bird tours from time to time. We plan to return for another visit sometime.

Back in Bolinas we found the co-op where we bought some organic carrots for the horses.  Feeling hungry, we went to the Coast Cafe for an early dinner but unfortunately it was closed.We went a nearby store and asked if they knew what time it opened and were told 5 o’clock. By this time it had started to rain in earnest and we did not really want to hang around for three quarters of an hour until the cafe opened. We decided to buy some food in the store and returned to the loft to cook our own supper. Earlier we had bought a dozen eggs from Anne and with an onion, a large potato and some mushrooms we made and enjoyed an omelet.

We spent a cozy evening watching a DVD and listening to the pounding rain outside. We wandered whether we would be able to get out for a walk the next day or whether the rain was set in for the weekend. We retired to our marvelous comfy bed for an early night.

Marin Sun Farms, Point Reyes

North Beach in the Point Reyes National Seashore

North Beach in the Point Reyes National Seashore

Back in August Tom emailed me an article from Bay Area Bites written by Stephanie Rosenbaum.  Marin Sun Farms’ philosophy is their livestock are 100% grass fed and pasture raised. To pass the message on, they conduct tours of their farm every month from spring until the end of September. It looked interesting, so we booked a tour.

(Click on the photos for larger versions)

Early on a weekday morning we set off. It was still dark and an enormous moon hung low in the sky. We took Highway 280 north. As it was officially the rush hour, we were expecting a lot more traffic than we normally experience on a weekend. Yes, there was more traffic, but we were able to travel at our normal pace until we reached 19th Avenue in San Francisco at the end of 28o. Obviously there was more traffic heading south.

We have come prepared for all kinds of weather. In the directions we were advised to dress in layers. As it is a walking tour, we took the precaution of wearing hiking boots.

When the sun came up we knew it was going to be a beautiful day. There was a little bit of fog about but once we had driven across the Golden Gate Bridge, the day just got better and better.

In Fairfax we stopped for breakfast. Afterwards we took a short walk around Fairfax village. There were lots of eating places, all unique, and many interesting shops.

At 8.30 we set off again towards Point Reyes Station driving along Sir Francis Drake Boulevard. The going was a bit slow through Fairfax due to rush hour and there were lots of children making their way to school. Once past Fairfax, the road became really scenic. Lots of trees, some of which were redwoods, and lots of wonderful views. Before long we were in the Point Reyes National Seashore which is a pristine and protected area and one of the jewels of California. Point Reyes is really a special place. There is nothing else like it. Maybe because it is totally unique. After all, this is where the Pacific Plate, on which Point Reyes sits, is slowly moving north and, in the process, is slowly grinding along the edge of the North American Plate, on which most of California sits. The whole of Point Reyes used to be much further south and that explains why the geography is so different from the mainland. Not that Point Reyes is an island of course, as there is no bridge to reach it.

We drove through Olema and, still keeping to Sir Francis Drake Boulevard, we took the road to the lighthouse. The meeting time was 10 a.m sharp but of course we arrived at Rogers Ranch, which is very close to the Estero Trail, at 9:15. We continued driving towards the lighthouse to while away some time. The weather is a little different here. The sun is shining but the temperature has dropped to 55 degrees and it was breezy.

Before we reached the lighthouse, we took the turning to North Beach. Neither of use has been here so it was like a mini adventure. The road dead ends in a big car park. We had the place almost to ourselves. There is a long sandy beach and a few fishermen were at the edge of the shore and a host of seagulls were screeching and squalling. It is a very exposed location and the wind whipped around.

Dave Evans of Marin Sun Farms

Dave Evans of Marin Sun Farms

At 9.45 we headed back towards Rogers Ranch and arrived in good time. There were a few other cars around so thought more people had arrived. It turned out there were two other people already there. The four of us stood around for a while waiting in the car park. Just after 10 Dave Evans, the owner of Sun Hill Farm, sauntered out of his house holding a coffee cup in his hand. He said we would wait for a short while for more folks to turn up.  22 people had signed up for the tour. He chatted away about his interest in sustainable farming. By 10:30 four other people had joined us. Did all the others get lost I wonder?

Dave told us that he was raised on the nearby H Ranch. His grandparents and parents were traditional dairy farmers but after he went to college to study Farm Management he became interested in grass fed beef and using no chemicals. He disliked the idea of cattle being fattened up on feedlots where they were corn fed, kept in small pens and pumped full of antibiotics. Cows are built to eat grass not corn. His dream was to run a sustainable farm. He became inspired by the idea of running a sustainable farm and raising beef just on grass through from calving to slaughtering.

He knew where to start and finish but the bit in the middle – the fattening up part – had to be worked out.  He had a two year association with Bill Niman of Niman Ranch. Bill Niman is no longer connected with Niman Ranch and runs a small farm in nearby Bolinas where he raises cattle, goats and turkeys. He and Dave are still friends.  In 1999 Dave started Marin Sun Farms with 25 head of beef. Since then he has signed up other historic ranches on Point Reyes and farms from further afield who raise grass fed beef.

Eight week old laying hens at Marin Sun Farms

Eight week old laying hens at Marin Sun Farms

Dave went into the history of the area. For thousands of years Point Reyes has been a pastoral settlement. The Miwok Indians were the first to gather, fish and hunt here, when the tule elk roamed freely and grizzly bears abounded. By the beginning of the 19th century the Spanish government were giving out land grants for the expansion of cattle ranching on the peninsula. In 1857 the law firm of Shafter, Shafter, Park and Heydenfeldt obtained over 50,00 acres of farmland on Point Reyes and set up the dairy farms now known as the A – Z historic ranches. It was a very successful operation with large quantities of best quality butter and cheese being shipped into San Francisco. In 1962 the Point Reyes National Seashore was formed and the land was acquired through eminent domain. David’s family lease the land back from the Park Service. David now leases Rogers Ranch which his uncle used to farm.

David’s story and his approach to farming was fascinating to listen to. I glanced at my watch and saw that David had been talking almost non stop – apart from someone asking the odd question – for an hour and a half. All that time we had been standing in the same place.  It was time to actually see around the farm. We walked past the house and dairy barn which were built in 1943 and David pointed out a bee hive. He explained that water for the farm comes from well and spring water and he plans to go solar.

Our first stop was at the Brood House which contains the one and two week old chicks. They arrive as day old chicks and stay in the Brood House for three weeks. The temperature inside must be kept at a constant level. To ensure there are no drafts, every crack in the old wooden building has been covered with insulating material. He opened the door for us to look inside. We could not see very much from outside but could hear the chicks chirping away. These chicks would be for raised for meat not eggs. When they are big enough they will be transferred to bigger cages which can be transported to the field. There they will be able to graze on the grass. Every day the cages are moved so they have fresh grass. Chickens raised for meat are not very adventurous and do not want to roam very far.

Eggs from Marin Sun Farms ready to be washed

Eggs from Marin Sun Farms ready to be washed

Our next stop was large wooden building where the eight week old laying hens were kept. They had plenty of room to move about and when the door opened several of them managed to get out of the door but they didn’t get far.  When the hens are ready to lay eggs they are transferred to mobile chicken houses which, like the meat birds, are moved out to the pasture and moved every day. The difference here though is that every day the doors are opened and they are free to roam where they will. They are guarded during the day by a large white Great Pyrenees dog whose job it is to protect them from predators. The chickens scratch around in the grass and feed on insect and larva. In the middle of the mobile chicken house are the nesting boxes. The floor of the houses are made out of open metal work so all the chicken droppings fall through and fertilize the pasture underneath.

On our way out to the fields we were shown the Egg Processing Room. Trays of eggs were stacked high. The eggs are collected twice and day and brought to this room to be washed and packed. They are sold at farmers markets for $7 a dozen. As we carried on up the path, Dave pointed out the electric fence and we were warned not to touch it as it carried 900 volts, enough to give us quite a jolt. While we were walking, he was explaining the life cycle of grass and what happens when a field is over grazed.

Marin Sun Farms.  We had a wonderful time and learned a lot about sustainable farming.

Marin Sun Farms. We had a wonderful time and learned a lot about sustainable farming.

We finished the tour by driving a couple of miles down the road to look at some of his dairy cattle out in a field which had a couple of radio masts in a fenced off area. Dave said the masts were used for ship to shore communication. There were about 50 cows in the field, including Hereford, Angus, Short Horns and a couple of Blue Short Horns. They were all pregnant and due to calve in March. Although we are nearly into October there is still plenty of grass for them to feed on.

At 1:00 the farm tour ended. Tom and I made our way back to Point Reyes Station to have lunch at the Marin Sun Farms butchers shop and cafe just outside the town at 10905 Shoreline Highway 1. Not only can you buy genuine grass fed meat at a reasonable price but they also make the best hamburgers ever. We ordered a beef burger with cheddar and house-smoked bacon, and a goat burger topped with caramelized onions. They were served with a delicious green salad and a pickle. They both looked so wonderful we cut them in two and had half each.

It was a very educational and interesting day and it was refreshing to hear someone who is so passionate about what he does. The farm tours start up again next spring so, if you want the same experience, be sure to check online next year.

Point Reyes

After a couple of weekends doing other things, we were back on the road again. At 5.30 we set off for Point Reyes. No breakfast blog today as we ate at home. I have been making Sleepy Morning Oatmeal and have been having that instead of stopping somewhere.  I got the recipe from Johnsie who runs the Pomaika’i (Lucky) Farm B on the Big Island.”

Tomales Bay and the top of Mt. Tam in the clouds

Tomales Bay and the top of Mt. Tam in the clouds. (Oops, Photon points out that it's not Mt. Tam it's Black's Mtn. Thanks!)

(Click on the photos for larger versions)

Since the clocks sprang forward it was really been dark when we set out and the sky did not lighten up until we reached San Francisco. The top of the Golden Gate Bridge was lost in fog and we did wander whether it would be the same on Point Reyes. Over the previous week the weather had been glorious with temperatures up in the 70′s and this weekend promises to be just as warm. We brought jackets, though, just in case.

Driving through Marin the residents were beginning to wake up. A few early morning joggers and dog walkers were out and about. Beyond Lagunitas the first redwoods appeared and then signs for Point Reyes National Seashore. We were almost there.

Another view of Tomales Bay

Another view of Tomales Bay

As we rounded the southern end of Tomales Bay, we noticed that there was far more water around. Obviously the tide was at its highest. We pulled in behind The Inverness Store to take a look at our favorite disintegrating boat. It was impossible to get as close as we did in November last year when we stayed nearby for the weekend. Tom took some photos of the Bay and Mount Tam, with its peak hidden by fog.

Beyond Inverness we turned right, heading towards Tomales point instead of the light house. Soon we were in open countryside, passing the occasional historic ranch. Dairy farming is still very much a going concern judging by the many cows grazing in the fields. Each ranch we passed seemed to be raising a different breed.

Off to our left we caught glimpses of the ocean and all around were flowers in bloom. Wildflowers is one of the reasons for our trip today. After so much rain, we were expecting to see a lot of color. The predominant color though on the road to Tomales Point was the white of the cow parsley. In the past, Tomales Point trail has been a good place to see a vivid display of color.

Once across a big cattle grid, we were on the Tule Elk Reserve and we soon spotted our first group of elk and up on the crest of a hill a magnificent

Tule Elk at the reserve in Point Reyes

Tule Elk at the reserve in Point Reyes

stag was standing in splendid isolation. Tom stopped to get some photos and was soon lost to view. When he returned to the car he said he didn’t see the stag again but had a very nice view of Tomales Bay. He also complained about the number of bugs around. Here in Claifornia we are not used to a lot of bugs but I guess the warm, wet spring has a lot to do with the increase. Note from Tom: Be mindful of the elk pasture patties.  Lots of elk = lots of poop.

Further along the road there was a group of about ten female elk close to the edge of the road. Once again Tom stopped. He was able to get some good shots even though they had moved off a little way as our car approached.

We passed the Pierce Point Ranch and drove to the end of the road which was the car park for the trail down to McLures Beach.  Click here for a link to all of the Point Reyes beaches.  Neither of us has ever been to this beach so we decided to go take a look. The sandy trail descended gradually. Along the way there were many wildflowers – yellow lupin like flowers, orange California poppies, lilac and white stock like flowers, small purple ground cover plants, bright spiky ice plants and purple vetch. The beach was wild and almost deserted. There was a small group of gulls and about a dozen sanderlings. It is amusing to watch the latter as they follow the receding surf and then turn and quickly mince away as the next little wave surges up the beach.

California Golden Poppy

California Golden Poppy

There were two lots of footsteps in the sand heading north. In the distance I could see two fisherman at the edge of the water. I walked back towards the trail and sat on a large weathered piece of driftwood to catch up on my writing.  Tom was busy with his camera and tripod. The sun wasn’t visible at all so it was not very warm plus there was a stiff breeze. At least there is no fog but off in the distance the view is hazy.

I ventured after Tom and discovered some rock pools. Even though I searched, I could not see any fish or even small crabs. There were no sea anemones fastened to the rocks either but it was good fun to clamber over the seaweed covered rocks.

Walking back up the trail seemed much steeper than the descent but there was much to distract me along the way. I looked more closely at the colorful plants and wished that I could identify them all. I tried to take some close up photos so I could look them up when I got home but they did not turn out too good at all.

We drove out of the car park and back up the road for a quarter of a mile and then turned left into the car park of Pierce Point Ranch. As I got out of the car I saw a photo of a woman posted on a notice board and went to have a closer look. It was a flier about Katherine Truitt, a 37 year old resident of Alameda, who had gone missing on January 8 this year. Her car was discovered in the parking lot at McClures Beach. It is assumed she was struck by a rogue or sneaker wave and swept out to sea. Back home I checked to see whether her body had been recovered but so far it has not. While searching I read that another woman – Silvia Lange, a 77 year former volunteer at Point Reyes National Seashore, also went missing 13 days later but this time further south. There are many warnings posted around at Point Reyes about the dangers of getting too close to the ocean so my guess is these two disappearances, though tragic, are just coincidences.

Pierce Point Ranch is not a working ranch now but not only was it the first ranch to be established on Point Reyes it was also the

Pierce Point Ranch

Pierce Point Ranch

largest. It was built in mid 1800′s and all of the buildings are still standing. There is a self guided tour around the hay barn, one room school house, calving shed, bunk houses and creameries although the only building you can walk through is the hay barn.

I first visited here with Tom about ten years ago and everything looked so much better than it does now. All the buildings need a coat of paint and basic maintenance but I guess the current economic situation has not helped.

There is a trail from here called the Tomales Point Trail and Tom and I have walked it several times. We had every intention of walking it today but the diversion to McClures Beach has not left us enough time. It has been a long time since breakfast and our tummies are growling.

We headed for Point Reyes Station in search of food. On the road between Pierce Point Ranch and Inverness we passed many bikes. The cyclists wore vests which proclaimed they were in training for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society.

In Point Reyes Station we looked around for somewhere to eat. Osteria Stellina opens for lunch at 11.30 so we decided to give them a try. We had dinner here a few months ago and we both really enjoyed it. We had a few minutes to kill before it opened so we went to the bank and on the way back to the restaurant Tom spotted a jacket he quite fancied.

Lunch was great. For starters Tom had asparagus and lemon and I had the beets and greens salad with ricotta cheese. We both had the GBD with aged Gruyere cheese. I did ask what GBD stood for and was told ‘Golden Brown and Delicious’. It certainly lived up to its name and worth all the extra calories. We drove home feeling replete and happy.

Point Reyes Part 3

Saturday Afternoon and Evening

We took a break from visiting artists’ studios by driving into Point Reyes Station. There were four things we wanted to do. The first was to find

Tamales Bay at Point Reyes

an ATM. Buying the bowl wiped us out of cash. Our second errand was to buy some cheese. Point Reyes has many dairy farms and cheese, along with oysters, are what the area is famous for. On Third Street is the Tomales Bay Food Company. It is a small selection of shops selling food from the area. At 1.30 on the Saturday it was packed. There were many cheeses to choose from and I could not decide which one to buy. In the end I chose a small selection from Cowgirl Creamery an a bag consisting of their Original Blue, Matos’ St George, Mt Tam and a goat cheese called California Crottin. The bag also contained bread and butter pickles but I misread it assuming there was bread and butter inside not knowing that there was such a thing as bread and butter pickles. I still have a lot to learn.

Tom and I sat outside on a bench and sampled the Matos’ St George cheese and watched what was going on. There were lots of people sitting on the grass eating their picnics and children were playing. More and more people were arriving to shop. Amongst all this, a young man was balanced on top of a four foot post performing some sort of Kung Fu exercise. For about fifteen minuts he carried on totally engrossed while people walked past, just giving him a casual glance. Hey, this is Marin and that’s what folks do round here. Just another day in Point Reyes Station.

Our next task, and the most important some would say, was to get a drink. Opposite Toby’s Feed Barn, where they hold a farmers market every Saturday, is The Western Saloon and this is where we headed. Outside Osteria Stellina – where we will be eating tonight – there were people waiting for tables but The Western had only a few customers. We took a seat at the bar and ordered a couple of beers. The lady who served us didn’t appear very friendly at first but she warmed up when we asked if she was serving when Prince Charles and Camilla came into the bar four years ago. She certainly was and told us all about it. Tom and I were in Point Reyes Station that day and were standing in the crowd outside the bar. It was a big occasion for us. It is the first time Tom had ever seen any of the Royals and I got to shake hands with both the Prince and his Duchess.

Our last visit was to the Pelican Gallery on the main street. A lot of people were walking round clutching the Point Reyes Open Studios brochure but the Pelican Gallery was not part of it and therefore not very busy. Inside the gallery were lot of large photos printed onto canvas and there were quite a few I would not mind hanging on my wall.

Back on the road again and there were just two more studios to visit today. They first was to Bruce Mitchell, the wood sculpture, who we missed earlier on. His studio was located in Sherwood Road. Bruce specializes in large sculptures and bowls. In the garden outside were a few of his bigger pieces. They are nice but not for us. Where would be put it if we bought one? Also outside he had a large work area with a sawpit. Inside there were more large sculptures and a lot of bowls. I circled the studio studying his bowls and some of them were really nice. There are made out of many different types of wood. It was interesting to observe the different grains in them. I had the urge to pick them up just to run my hands over their surface and to bury my nose inside to smell them, but resisted.

Our very last studio visit was right opposite our B&B so we parked the car and walked across the footbridge over the creek in the middle of Inverness Way. Abbie Durkeee uses mixed media in her paintings. Her studio is also her house so you walk straight into her front room. Several of Abbie’s paintings are displayed on the walls of her sitting room and every one of them told a story. One told the story of her grandmother and displayed a photo of Abbie as a young girl, a loaf of bread, a jar of bread and butter pickles (what a coincidence) and lots of butterfly wings fixed to the bottom third. Abbie collected the wings when she was cycling on the Big Island in Hawaii. Monarch Butterflies migrate to Hawaii and a lot must perish. She said there were millions of wings lying around and in a car they would not have been seen but when you are are riding a bike you see much more. Abbie picked up a discarded Marlborough cigarette box and placed the wings inside. The box protected the wings form being damaged as she continued her ride. Butterfly wings represent family and community to Abbie. Just off the living room is Abbie’s workroom and there was a canvas she was working on and other projects in works. Everything looked highly organized. As we were leaving she us she has a completely different display each day.

Another view of Tamales Bay

Next door to Abbie at 2 Inverness Way we noticed a sign which said ‘Shaker Shops West’ so we went inside to have a look. There were many Shaker items and gadgets like kitchen utensils, coat hooks and children’s toys plus Shaker chairs, tables and a chest. The furniture is well designed, functional and appealing but also very expensive.

Back to the B&B for a spot of relaxation before heading back to Point Reyes Station for dinner. The fresh cookies were out in the sitting room and I picked up a couple as we walked past. They were delicious.

At 5.45 we turned up at Osteria Stellina only to be told our reservation was for 6.30. It was a very busy place with all the tables occupied and people waiting, so we went off to find some amusement before returning at the appointed time. For ten minutes we browsed the books in Point Reyes Books but it closed a 6. There was nothing else to do but to return to the car and listen to the radio for half an hour.

At 6.30 we tried again and only had to wait five minutes before our table was ready. It was not the best table in the house because people were constantly knocking the back of Tom’s chair when they walked past and every time the door opened I got a blast of cold air but these are the only negatives of the whole experience. The chef and owner is Christian Caiazzo. Originally he worked in high profile restaurants in New York and San Francisco but had to give up when he was in a bad car accident. After some painful rehabilitation he moved to Point Reyes Station where he first work at Cowgirl Creamery and then opened a coffee bar before opening Osteria Stellina.

To start with Tom had half a dozen sweetwater oysters. They were served in their half shells on a bed of ice with a cocktail sauce and a lemon flavored dipping sauce. I had roasted brussels sprouts and walnuts. Both were lip smackingly good. For Tom’s main course he had braised goat and I had Osso Buco with mashed potatoes and kohlrabi and broccoli rabe. Tom said the goat was very good. Mine was delicious. To finish Tom had the flourless chocolate desert and I had the cheese selection which consisted of three local cheeses – a soft goats cheese and two from the Cowgirl Creamery (Mt Tam and Red Hawk) served with a membrillo (quince preserve) and bread & butter. It was all washed down with a couple of carafes of house red. We both came to the same conclusion – it was the best dinner we’ve enjoyed for some time.

We were in the restaurant for nearly two hours but never realized it had been that long as we were having the time of our lives. The end of another perfect day.

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