Sunday, February 2, 2014

To the edge of the Pacific Plate at Tomales Point

After seven years in the Bay Area, Allison and I finally made the trip out to Tomales Point, the long sliver of land separating Tomales Bay and the Pacific Ocean. What makes this location particularly unique is that it represents the tectonic boundary between the North American Plate (on the east side of Tomales Bay) and the Pacific Plate (on the west side of Tomales Bay). This chunk of land has moved northward approximately 90 miles over the last 50 to 60 million years, although its origins trace back even further to the Tehachapi Mountains in southern California.

Tomales Point is the northernmost point in Point Reyes National Seashore (photo source: California Coastal Records Project). The trail takes you all the way to the edge of the Point.

The hike starts at the end of Pierce Point Road at the Tomales Point Trailhead and continues approximately 4.5 miles out to the northern end of the point. The peninsula is flanked by water on three sides.

According to the National Park Service website, the Pierce Point Ranch was established in 1858 and was one of the most successful dairies of its time. The trail winds around the old ranch site before setting out for the ridge.

The old milking barn at Pierce Point Ranch.

The old milking barn at Pierce Point Ranch. Cows with a view!

We arrived around 1pm on a Saturday and the parking area was quite full. We encountered quite a few hikers on their return trip, but saw fewer and fewer as the day went on.

And we're off! The Tomales Point Trailhead.

A short distance along the trail we were greeted by sweeping views of the rocky cliffs on the Pacific side of the point.

The rocky cliffs of Tomales Point, with Bodega Head in the background.

On the other side of the peninsula, Tomales Bay was a little harder to see because the trail doesn't follow the high point of the ridge, but we were able to catch a few views to the east, including glimpses of Hog Island out in the middle of the bay.

View across Tomales Bay with Hog Island in the middle

For such a long hike, the trip was relatively moderate as the trail follows the flat plateau of the point. There are a few sections of up and down but overall nothing too steep.

After a couple miles we caught our first glimpse of the Tule Elk known to inhabit the area. I used my telephoto lens to snap a few pictures from afar. Little did we know, the elk would soon appear immediately adjacent to the trail, a little too close for comfort!

By the 1870s, the Tule Elk were all but extinct in California, supposedly reduced to a single breeding pair. Today, their population numbers in the thousands. These guys were trying to hide but we still managed to spot them somehow...

Some of the elk seemed to be quite nervous around us, while others paid no attention. The grass was so dry from the drought, I'm not sure what was left for these guys to eat!

Tule elk grazing with Tomales Bay in the background.

We continued out towards the point. The trail deteriorates a little bit and turns into a relatively easy to follow sandy path for the last half mile. This section of the hike was very exposed to the wind due to its northwest orientation.

View looking out to the end of Tomales Point, with Bodega Head in the distance.

At the end of the trail you can scramble down a little bit to the very edge of the cliff. To the north across Bodega Bay is Bodega Harbor, which is visible as a depression in the horizon caused by the San Andreas Fault. The bedrock outcrop at the base of the point appeared to be more erosion-resistant granitic rock with more erodible sandstone making up the upper receding portion of the bluff.

The edge of Tomales Point, with Bodega Head visible in the distance.

After a quick break for snacks we packed it up and headed back up the ridge. By this time, we were two of only a handful of folks still left on the trail. The elk seized upon the opportunity to take over the trail and blocked our path out!

Attempting to bypass the elk by traveling cross country just west of the main trail.

We skirted around to the side of the elk and made it about 100 yards before they spooked and headed off down the ridge.

 On our hike back we were treated to a stunning sunset view down the coast towards Point Reyes.

View of McClure's Beach from the Tomales Point trail on the return trip, with the Point Reyes beaches in the background.

We made it back to the car at dusk and explored the Pierce Point Ranch for a few minutes before packing up. Another successful day trip to the Point Reyes National Seashore. Tomales Point? Check!