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.
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
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
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
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.”