At Point Reyes: Wild Flowers . . . and Animals Wild and Tame

Elephant seals lie on beach at base of cliffs at Chimney Rock, Point Reyes, CA. Photo by BF Newhall

A wild spot just 36 miles from the urban bustle of San Francisco. The purple wildflowers are douglas irises. They’re native to the Pacific coast; some ranchers consider them weeds. Photos by BF Newhall

By Barbara Falconer Newhall

A couple of weeks ago, I mourned the loss of little hill in Michigan called Eagle Top. This week I’d like to celebrate a place that, unlike Eagle Top, has been preserved in all its wild and pastoral beauty – the vast triangle of land along the California coast known as Point Reyes, especially the narrow outcropping called Chimney Rock.

map of point reyes.

Point Reyes National Seashore is 111 square miles. Chimney rock is at the eastern end of the point extending into the Pacific.

Sixty-some years ago, developers and loggers began eyeing the fog and wind-battered Point Reyes ranch land — which was only an hour-and-a-half drive from San Francisco. Environmentalists, concerned that the beautiful countryside would be devastated by deforestation or construction or both, pressed to have the land acquired by the National Park Service. Ranchers, some of whose families had been running cattle on the land for more than a century, opposed any such acquisition.

Eventually, a creative compromise was worked out. The Park Service bought up 53,000 acres and leased 18,000 acres of it back to the ranchers and dairy farmers.

Today, on certain trails and roads, human hikers cross paths regularly with dairy cows. Those who would rather eat than hike can be found taking dairy tours at places

Dairy cows returning to the barn cross a public road at Point Reyes, CA. Photo by BF Newhall

Spotted: A herd of dairy cattle crossing a Point Reyes road on its way to the barn.

like the Cowgirl Creamery and the Point Reyes Farmstead Cheese Company.

Meanwhile, a distant relative of the dairy cow, the northern elephant seal, has been making a dramatic comeback at Point Reyes. Hunted for their blubber nearly to extinction in the

A beach at Chimney Rock, Point Reyes, CA, is covered densely with elephant seal females and pups. Photo by BF Newhall

Spotted: Elephant seal females and pups relaxing in the sun. Not much movement, but lots of honking sounds. Photos by BF Newhall

nineteenth century, these huge sea-going mammals — they’re pinnipeds and they can weigh as much as 6,600 pounds — are now protected by the 1972 Marine Mammal Act. Since then, elephant seal numbers have grown to a healthy 100,000. A breeding pair was first sighted at Point Reyes’ Chimney Rock in 1981; the area’s beaches are now visited by more than 1,500 individuals each winter.

At the end of April, females and their fat pups were still lolling on the beach like so many banana slugs (another Point Reyes native). The pups would soon be full grown, and they and their

A hiker in red shirt rests on bench overlooking Drake's Bay at Chimney Rock, Point Reyes, CA. Photo by BF Newhall

Spotted: At the end of the Chimney Rock trail, a human hiker. 

mothers would soon be heading out to sea, leaving Point Reyes in the care of their tame mammalian cousins, the cows and the humans.

More nature stories at “A Walk Around Lake Michigan” and “The Center of the Universe — A Beach in Michigan.”

A native purple douglas iris in bloom at Chimney Rock, Point Reyes, CA. Photo by BF Newhall

Spotted: Douglas iris . .

Mule's ear wildflower growing amidst unidentified blue wildflowers at Chimney Rock, Point Reyes, on April 26, 2013. Photo by BF Newhall

. . . mule’s ear . . .

Large, white queen anne's lace blossom at Chimney Rock, Point Reyes, on April 26, 2012. Photo by BF Newhall

. . . cow parsnip . . .







A yellow bush lupin bush, in full bloom, about six feet across at Chimney Rock, Point Reyes, California,with Drake's Bay in background. Photo by BF Newhall

. . . and yellow bush lupine. Photos by BF Newhall





  1. Hazel Stoneham says:

    Thankyou for posting/sharing such lovely images on your interesting site.

  2. Dee Myers says:

    Barbara, we used to live on the Tiburon peninsula and enjoyed the beauty of Marin county. The last time we went to Pt. Reyes, there was a dead whale carcass at Drake’s beach–very smelly but very interesting. Your photos are splendid. Dee


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