Travel

To the lighthouse

The lighthouse at Point Reyes Station. Photo: S. Venkatraman  

Mention ‘California’ and the first thought that comes to most people’s minds is the Bay Area (popularly known as Silicon Valley) and the clean and wide roads along with the year-long beautiful weather. Though all of Silicon Valley is filled with companies and is like a concrete jungle, head just 30 miles north-west of San Francisco and you will stumble on to one of the best-kept secrets in this area. Famously known as West Marin County, the area is home to two major national parks — Point Reyes National Seashore and Tomales Bay State Park. There are some amazing natural treasures here, just a stone’s throw from the hustle and bustle of San Francisco City.

On a lazy Saturday morning, we decided to drive up to what is the windiest point on the Pacific Coast and what is supposedly the second foggiest point on the North American continent — Point Reyes. We cruised on our 4WD through the freeway only to be stalled by the heavy traffic in SF. After wading through dozens of traffic lights, we hit the freeway again and soon were out into an altogether different landscape. Tall redwood trees made way for a small town which turned out to be the Bear Valley Visitor Information Center. The Center gives you an idea about the geography of the place and the dos and don’ts. It also educates you about the wilderness, the activities that are available, and about road and trail closures.

Beyond this, we were presented with vast open ranchlands with hundreds of well-fed and tagged cows grazing and enjoying the sun. Later, I found out that many of the boutique and high-end hotels in the city get their cheese supplied from the many dairy farms here. Soon we hit the end of the road.

The lighthouse at the Point Reyes Station is an absolute beauty. It is located not at the top of the land but slightly below — this is to avoid the fog that often invades the San Francisco skyline; the lower perch makes it visible to passing boats. There are some 300-odd steps that you need to climb down. A board warns you: ‘There is strenuous effort required to climb these stairs, which are equivalent to a 30-storey building.’ If it is too windy, then the stairs are closed.

An old man, ranger and guide, who would have been a perfect lighthouse keeper in his day, was enthusiastic about the technology behind the lighthouse and explained to us in great detail the optics used and its history. He told us that it was a first-order Fresnel lens, one of its kind in the world, no longer operational. The lens is almost 7 feet high with concentric rings of glass prisms above and below a central drum. The lighthouse was decommissioned in 1975, and now there is an automated light, foghorn, and radio beacon just next to the lighthouse.

If you are lucky, you can spot some grey whales or Northern Elephant seals returning to the Point Reyes Headlands. Or you could hike the full 9.2 miles to Tomales Point and right up to Bodega Bay where, between July and October, you can spot Tule elks. We were lucky enough to spy a few of them from a distance.

The park offers a range of terrain — beaches, dunes, wetlands, streams, and forests — providing great opportunities for picnicking, hiking, bicycling, or horseback riding.

Getting There: Take your car and start early from San Francisco, you can easily return by dusk.

Boarding and Lodging: Vladimir’s, the landmark Czech restaurant, in Inverness, is perfect for a quick snack or drink. They don’t have any vegetarian options. Pick up a picnic from Inverness before you leave.

Tip: Visit the Point Reyes Visitor Center or call beforehand to know the timings, weather conditions and event schedules. You can buy some organic produce like dairy, jams etc, from the shops near Inverness, but do it on your way back!


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Printable version | Jul 24, 2021 9:10:04 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/metroplus/travel/to-the-lighthouse/article4860189.ece

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