Aaron Sumner


Point Reyes National Seashore, Marin County California

I go out to northern California, for work, about four times a year. Most of the time I head back to Kansas before the weekend has had time to kick in, but last week my wife came out to join me, and we stayed through the weekend so she could get a feel for the place.

The highlight of our exploration was a visit to the Point Reyes National Seashore in Marin County, just north of San Francisco. (I work a little further north, in Sebastopol.) One of my favorite things about my visits is that the ocean is just 20 minutes away. If you live on a coast, this probably isn't a big deal. But for those of us who have spent most of our lives surrounded by land, land, and more land, getting to the ocean every now and then can be pretty spectacular.

On Sunday, we left Sebastopol, turned off of U.S. Highway 101 in Petaluma, and made our way to Point Reyes Station. But the plan was to get to the lighthouse at the southwest corner of the site. The designated-as-national-seashore-area itself is huge–It took almost an hour to get about 20 miles, over a poorly-kept-up road, to the top of a cliff. Along the way we saw lots of dairy cows–luckiest dairy cows in the world–and bottomed out our little econobox rental car two or three times.

Now, one can't actually drive to the lighthouse. One must drive to a small parking lot, then walk another quarter-mile or so to get to a small visitor's center. Plenty of opportunities to stop, turn to the right, and gawk at nature's majesty, though.

The lighthouse itself is at the bottom of the cliff, because it needed to be seen below the dense fog and be protected from the heavy winds that hammer the shore. The facility is actually still in use, though these-a-days it's all automated.

At some point, somebody was kind enough to build 308 steps, with handrails, to get down to the lighthouse.

These are common murres, I think. There was a sign that mentioned interesting-looking birds, and to be on the lookout for them, but I forgot to mentally record those birds' species. Anyway, I looked down the cliff and there they were. They look like penguins, but aren't. They're visible from the top of the stairway, leading down the cliff to the lighthouse.

I won't lie: Getting to the lighthouse is a hike. The only thing remotely close to accommodations is a couple of little rest spots along the way, where the out-of-shape can leave the narrow staircase, rest, and check out scenery like this.

And this.

At the foot of the staircase is the lighthouse and a couple of small buildings. One of them houses the robots that control the operation now, and the other has a few artifacts from the days of yore when people actually took care of things. Before these people left, they were apparently sadistic enough to remind you just how many steps you just walked down to see this sight–and just how many steps you were going to have to walk back up to get to the top.

After we made our way back to the top and the shitty little Mazda 2 I'd rented for the week, we headed down to Drake Beach (named after Sir Francis, who took it to the Spaniards, in the name of the Queen, to the bitter end). A little anti-climactic after seeing everything from high above, to be honest. Pretty much all of the amenities that had been advertised for this part of the site had been shut down; that didn't help. But we did get to see some impressive waves rolling in.

A few more photos from the trip (including sea lions!) are available via my Flickr account.

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