Point Reyes is considered as the windiest and foggiest place on the Pacific Coast. The highest wind speed recorded was 133 mph, and 60 mph winds are common. As the wind is always coming from west, the few, meager trees that succeed in living are bent eastwards.
Fog is the other specialty of Point Reyes. It is not unusual to have over 2,100 hours of fog annually which is one day out of four. One time, the keepers recorded 176 hours of continuous fog (7 days, eight hours).
I visited Point Reyes on a gorgeous day with a bright sun and a nice little breeze. I have been very lucky. Among the visitors, I heard a man complaining that it was the fifth time he visited and the first time he could see the lighthouse from the top of the cliff!
In Spring, there is around the lighthouse an abundance of common and rare wildflowers.
On the first photo, the pink flowers are from the ice plant, a native to South Africa that has now been removed to restore the natural habitat for several rare and endangered plant species such as the Point Reyes checker lily and the Point Reyes rein orchid.
Though, one native plant resists very well to the invasion by non native plants, the Yellow California poppy. It grows everywhere (photo 2). It is California state flower.
The lighthouse stands on a man made platform, 300 feet below the top of the cliff. When the lighthouse was built, there was no stairs and all the material needed for the building had to be brought on men’s back! The stairs has 308 steps and were built in 1939. It is easy to go down but if you suffer from vertigo, this is not for you. It is easy to go down but if you do not walk easily, you must remember that when you will come back, that will mean climbing the 308 steps! The sight is fantastic and worth the effort!
Given that the rocky platform is 80 meters above the sea, there was no need to build a very tall lighthouse. It is 11 meters high and made of a concrete basement topped by a cast iron structure strongly bolted into the solid rock
The building on the right was the lodging for the lighthouse keepers and their family.
Point Reyes rock, several hundred feet below the lighthouse is a rookery for Marine birds. Their life, breeding, nesting, hatching, etc are monitored by Point Reyes Bird Observatory
There are thousands of black and white birds, roughly resembling penguins though they are related with puffins and not with penguins (see the second photo, a close up, sorry, not very sharp). This bird is an auk, the Common Murre or Common Guillemot or Thin-billed Murre ( Uria aalge). There are about 16,000 pairs of murres breeding just offshore on Lighthouse Rock.. For more, visit Point Reyes Bird Observatory
Since 1981, the Northern elephant seas (Mirounga angustirostris) breeds at Point Reyes after being absent for over 150 years. This is one of only eleven mainland breeding areas for the Northern elephant seal in the world.
Drakes bay is east to Point Reyes and is widely open to the south. The whole shore is part of Point Reyes National Seashore. It extends from Point Reyes to Bolinas, 25 miles north to San Francisco as the crow flies.
Photo 1 and 2 were taken in the westernmost part of Drakes bay. As it is sheltered by Point Reyes lighthouse promontory, the ocean is rather calm and allows swimming.
Photo 3 was taken a little further east and the rolls are taller.
Photos 4 and 5 were taken even further east, where Point Reyes lighthouse promontory does not give any shelter from the easterly winds and waves.
In the beginning of the afternoon, the wind was light but around 5 PM, it began to grow stronger and stronger. Given that the weather remained fine end the sky blue, this had to be a strong sea breeze, which is not unusual on the coasts. Land heats faster than the sea and on a sunny day, after a few hours the air upon land is warm enough to climb upwards. It is replaced by colder air from above the sea, that gives this kind of wind that usually clam down after a while, at sunset.
On the photos, look at how the crest of the waves is blown by the strengthening wind! Though they were shot in the western part of the bay, the “sheltered” part (see previous tips), the water is not calm anymore and nobody is playing in the water anymore. Though, this is a nice weather…
On almost 20 km, the coastline north to Point Reyes is straight and low, with a wide strip of coarse sand. The always present wind lifts strong rollers that break a long way before they reach the coast. Even on a nice and sunny day, the foam is impressive. If it was possible to stand at the view point when there is a strong gale (which I doubt!), the landscape must then be terrific and nightmaring! I have read that when wind speeds exceed 40 m.p.h., the steps to the lighthouse are closed for visitors' safety but they do not tell if the view point is open.
Just below the lighthouse, the ocean’s wave brake on dangerous reefs and rocky shoals. I can hardly imagine how it must look when the wind is really strong. By Point Reyes standards, when I visited, there was no wind and the ocean was calm!!
Point Reyes has numerous spectacular hikes, so it is hard to say which is the most beautiful. The Sky Trail hike is certainly is in the running. The trailhead of the Sky Trail is at 700 feet elevation. Being this close to the coast, and protected by a small range, the trail first starts out through a lush forest of pines, spruces and cedars. Spanish moss hangs from some of the trees, and ferns create a thick carpet on the forest floor.
Photo 1 shows the eastern part of Drakes bay with the mainland in the background.
Photo 2 shows the whole extent of Drakes bay from left (west) to east (right). Bolinas should be just outside the frame, on the right.
Photo 3 shows the direction of San Francisco, hidden by the distance haze.
The Point Reyes Lighthouse, clings to a sea-battered cliff, after years of warning mariners was built mariners about perilous rocks and reefs.
- perched 300 feet above the water
- 132-year-old glass beacon
- fog horns
- steep 308-step path leading down to the lighthouse,originally built in the 1950s. Climbing up the steep stairs isequivalent to a 30-story building.
- month of March is when the peak migration of gray whales heading south from Alaska draws visitors to the rocky point.
The lighthouse has a storied history.
Hundreds of shipwrecks occurred before the lighthouse was built in 1870, but even these days a few ships run aground.
The first chronicled shipwreck was in 1595 and featured a galleon loaded with silks, gold, blue-and-white china and other rare items from Manila. The ship's entire crew and one dog then boarded longboats, all of them surviving the trip back to Mexico. (We still find pieces of porcelain washing up on Drakes Beach.)
The original structures were living quarters for four light keepers, a washhouse, weather bureau and a fog signal house. Many light keepers were sailors "who swallowed an anchor" -- gave up their oceangoing ways and retired to shoreside duty.
Most were single, but placards note how one light keeper's wife tried to start a small garden on the bluff. But winds here reach 100-plus mph, and she saw her new crop of carrots blow away.
One half-hour before sunset, the light keepers tended to their 6,000-pound apparatus: trimming the lantern's wicks, replacing its oil and, at regular intervals, winding up the brass clockwork mechanism that ran for two hours and 20 minutes. She said the job was easy during the long summer days, which gave the keepers time to whitewash the buildings and repair machinery. But during the winter it was an arduous job, requiring the men to brace against gales that sometimes forced them to crawl to the lighthouse.
The beam from each lighthouse has a distinctive pattern, as do the blasts from the fog horns, so ships in the ocean can gauge their location even if the shore isn't visible.
The lens could be spotted from 26 miles off shore.
The original lighthouse lens was designed in 1823 by a disenchanted French engineer, Augustine Fresnel. Aside from the maritime use, his invention -- which concentrated the radiant light into a horizontal beam, instead of having diffuse light -- revolutionized theatrical lighting.
The 24 vertical panels in the lens magnify the light through 1,032 crystal prisms. Curtains are closed around the lens each day to prevent the sun's rays from starting fires through the glass.
The historic Point Reyes Lighthouse has endured many hardships, including the 1906 earthquake when the entire Point Reyes Peninsula and the lighthouse moved north 18 feet. During the temblor, the lens slipped off its track -- the only damage sustained by the lighthouse -- and regained function just thirteen minutes later.
In 1939, when the U.S. Coast Guard took over operation of the lighthouse and power reached the point, the light source was changed from incandescent oil vapor to electricity. Before then, light keepers bought lard -- rendered pig fat -- from nearby ranches as fuel for the lantern.
In 1962, the region was declared the Point Reyes National Seashore. In 1975, a separate structure with an automated light took over the lighthouse's navigational function. Two years later, the lighthouse and its lens were opened to the public.
The National Park Service is now responsible for the lens, with rangers polishing, greasing and cleaning the lighthouse and educating visitors.
During the winter months, the rangers at the Point Reyes Lighthouse educate visitors about the gray whale migrations. Tours of the lens and its mechanism resume in April and run through December, 2:30 to 4 p.m. Thursday through Monday. During those months, there are evening lightings on the first and third Saturdays; reservations, which are required, can be made by calling (415) 669-1534.
Less than a mile after starting from the Sky Trail trailhead, you'll reach a fork in the trail. Signage is good on these trails - it will point left to Horse Trail and Mt. Wittenberg, and right to Sky Camp. The left fork goes to the Mt. Wittenberg summit (elevation 1407 feet), the highest point on the Point Reyes National Seashore. Now, the summit itself is surprisingly unspectacular, but there are two reasons why you might want to take this fork. You'll get views of the Tomales Bay (created by San Andreas fault) to the east, and by going to Mt. Wittenberg and then down to the coast, you can say you stood on the highest point in Point Reyes and the lowest point, all within a couple of hours.