This moderately easy eight mile
out-and-back hike on the Estero and Sunset Beach trails has striking views
of Home Bay and Drakes Estero most of the way. The badly eroded trail has
been recently improved, making it a pleasure to hike on. Note that the sign
says it is 2.4 miles to Sunset Beach trail, not to Sunset Beach.
The trail starts out in grassland with coyote brush. Soon you see an unusual
looking pine forest. It was a Christmas tree farm when the National Seashore
purchased the area, and the Monterey pines were left to grow. A levee takes
hikers to a bridge across Home Bay, named for Home Ranch, the oldest ranch
on Point Reyes and headquarters of the Shafter dairy empire. The road was
built to get to a large proposed subdivision at Sunset Beach. Fortunately
for us, it was stopped just in time when the land became part of the
Stop at the bridge and look down. You are almost sure to see striped shore
crabs on the rocks and, depending on the tide and luck, perhaps a bat ray or
a leopard shark swimming under the bridge. The delicate lavender flowers of
marsh rosemary are in bloom in the wetland.
After the bridge the trail heads uphill and you may notice a skunk smell.
Donít look for a black and white animal; the smell is coming from the low
purple flowers at your feet, appropriately called skunkweed. If it is low
tide, gazing down you will see a pattern of channels in the wetland. This
kind of winding pattern is called a meander, named for a river in
Brush rabbits scamper across the trail, or stop to eat if they feel you are
a safe distance from them. In about 1.6 miles you come to some ponds, a
place to scan for river otters, great blue herons and great egrets. At the
top of a hill a eucalyptus tree and some pink naked ladies in bloom are the
site of Berry Point Ranch, established in the early 1850s.
At 2.5 miles the Estero trail turns left, and by going straight you are on
the Sunset Beach trail. In another half mile I saw a sandbar with 40 harbor
seals resting on it. A surprising 20 percent of Californiaís harbor seals
live or breed at Point Reyes. A doe with two spotted fawns looked at me and
then went about her business unconcerned. At least 60 egrets stood in
shallow water, poised to catch an unwary fish.
After reaching a bench, the trail becomes sketchier. It crosses a wetland
with muddy spots before reaching a rocky beach. The cliffs above the beach
are thick with native plants ó white angelica, orange stickymonkey flower,
the pom-poms of buckwheat and the lemon yellow flowers of the succulent sea
lettuce. On the beach you can see many examples of tafoni, an exquisite
lace-like pattern of holes in rocks caused by weathering and erosion. In the
bay, seals often pop up their heads to eye you curiously. Rounding a bend,
you can see the end of the Limantour spit and the eastern edge of Drakes
Beach. The high cliff backdrop is steep here, with no flowers. The rocks
form tidepools, miniature worlds with their own predators and prey. Look for
hermit crabs, tidepool gobis, and aggregating anemones.
Mist rises off the surface of the Estero, and the only sounds are the
occasional calls of gulls or Caspian terns. I can only tear myself away by
promising myself Iíll be back.
To return, retrace your route, noticing how the tide has changed. On my way
back, the egrets that had been fishing were waiting in treetops for the tide
to turn again.
Take Sir Francis Drake Boulevard and make the first left after Mount Vision
Road. This road is unnamed on the Point Reyes National Seashore map, but
there is a sign to Estero trail. Follow this paved road to the dirt parking
lot. No dogs.
Wendy Dreskin has led the College of Marin
nature/hiking class Meandering in Marin since 1998, and teaches other nature
classes for adults and children. To contact her, go to wendydreskin.com.
source Marin IJ