Tomales Bay, shade and Shell Beach
Hot day? This easy three-mile hike in a bishop pine forest at Tomales Bay
State Park is green and shady most of the way, and has the added bonus of an
optional swim at Shell Beach. By leaving one car at the Shell Beach parking
lot and carpooling to the start of the Jepson trail, you can avoid the
uphill entailed in a round-trip hike.
Take the signed Jepson trail, and in .1 mile turn right. In another .1
mile there is a signpost where you turn right to go 2.5 miles to
There were eight Coast Miwok village sites in what is now Tomales Bay
State Park. The land and bay supplied food, medicine, basketry materials and
other necessities. This walk gives you the opportunity to contemplate the
richness of the area, and similar areas along the coast where Miwok, Pomo
and other tribes lived.
Many kinds of edible berries grow here, including thimbleberries,
woodland strawberries (which are finished for the season though you can
still see the leaves), huckleberries, gooseberries, currants, salal, native
blackberries and madrone berries. Toyon berries, which are tiny and green
now but will be red in December, were welcomed in winter when the other
berries were finished for the season. They were eaten cooked.
Tan oaks and live oak provided the staple, acorns. Buckeyes were only
used when the oak harvest failed since it took more work to leach them than
to leach acorns. Bay, hazel and chinquapin trees also provided edible nuts.
Hazel sticks were used for making cradles and other strong baskets. Other
plants were used as medicine, including the minty-smelling yerba buena,
which has tiny white flowers, sticky monkeyflower, ocean spray, coffeeberry
berries, honeysuckle root and poison oak, which was used for wart removal.
Rushes, chain ferns, bracken ferns, ground iris leaves and hedge nettles
were used to make baskets, traps for fish and rope.
The land even supplied the material for musical instruments. The Miwoks
made clappers from elderberry bushes.
The trail winds under bishop pines and tan oaks. The understory is thick
with sword ferns and bracken ferns, huckleberry bushes and sticky
monkeyflower. A raised boardwalk announces you are in a wetter area. Rushes
and lady ferns grow by it. The valley to the left is full of lovely magenta
giant coastal hedge nettles and the shrub Labrador tea, with its distinctive
|When you arrive at the beach on
Tomales Bay it is easy to look out at the water, but take time to notice the
wetland as well. The wetlands flower in summer when the hills are brown. The
tiny bright yellow jaumea flowers are in bloom now, as well as lavender
marsh rosemary. You will probably also notice a large number of
1-1½-cone-shaped snails in the shallows of the wetland. These are Asian
hornsnails, an invasive species that reached the U.S. in the late 1920s to
early 1930s. Through competition they have decreased the populations of
native California hornsnails, which the California Native American tribes
gathered for food, especially between mussel harvests.
Go up the stairs
and over the knoll, and in a few minutes you come to Shell Beach. There is
another small wetland, with cattails toward the back. Cattail roots were
sometimes ground and mixed with acorn meal in making acorn bread. The
absorbent fluffy seeds served as a lining for baby baskets. A short .3 mile
trail uphill takes you to the Shell Beach parking lot.
To get to Shell Beach take the Sir Francis Drake Boulevard exit from
Highway 101, continue west through the town of Inverness and turn right on
Camino del Mar, which ends at the parking lot. Leave one car there and
return to Sir Francis Drake. Continue to the junction with Pierce Point
Road. Take Pierce Point Road for about four miles to a dirt parking lot on
your right. It is before the main entrance to Tomales Bay State Park. No
dogs. No entrance fee.
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