Sunset Beach

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Sunset Beach

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 National Seashore.

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 present-day Turkey.

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

source Marin IJ