Point Reyes National Seashore ~ Marin County, CA

Rugged Point Reyes coastline

Point Reyes National Seashore is a peninsula of much – treacherous headlands, stunning coastline, impenetrable fog, howling winds, lush forests, wind-blown hillsides, historic dairy farms, mammals and birds galore, and a lighthouse, which to be seen up-close will certainly give your legs and lungs a workout.  It is the windiest place on the Pacific coast and the second foggiest place in North America.

We had been to Point Reyes before but not during the summer.  Our first visit, we recalled, was on a very blustery, foggy day and we seemed to be the only two around, with both visitor center and lighthouse locked up tight.  Thankfully the gods were smiling on us for our second visit, rewarding us with sunshine and mild breezes.

The peninsula’s land mass covers ~71,000 acres, with many hiking trails, three visitor centers and some funky little towns begging to be explored.   While we did spend some time in Point Reyes Station (more about that later), our focus was to get to the lighthouse while the sun was still shining.

Little cabin on Tomales Bay
Just add water.

This year marks the 50th anniversary  that Point Reyes National Seashore has been in the National  Park Service system.  Established relatively recently on September 13, 1962 by President John F. Kennedy, her history extends back thousands of years, with the first inhabitants being the Coast Miwok Indians roughly 5000 years ago.  Being hunter-gatherers, theirs was a good life here, with both land and sea offering up her bounties to this peaceful people for thousands of years.

Point Reyes map, compliments of Google maps

A long and rich maritime history is the story of Point Reyes.  Spanish explorers navigated these waters with their treasures from the Orient, while gold miners, lumbermen, and dairy farmers relied on the transport of their goods through these straits.  Historic dairy farms, still operating today, dot the roadside leading out to the lighthouse.

Point Reyes Lighthouse

Point Reyes Lighthouse had her debut on December 1, 1870, as a result of many shipwrecks in these coastal waters, the first in California history being that of the San Augustin, a Spanish galleon.  Her fate of a watery grave took place in 1595, off of Drakes Bay, but was only the first in a long line of such tragedies.  This lighthouse guided mariners for 105 years, until 1975, but unfortunately ships continued to have fateful endings despite all efforts.  All total, 50 ships have been lost at sea here, due to the treacherous cliffs, howling winds, and dense fog.  Even today, nearly every year a small vessel meets a tragic end on this rugged shoreline.  Jutting 10 miles out to sea, Point Reyes Headlands pose a serious threat to ships entering and leaving the San Francisco Bay.

Although the lighthouse itself is no longer working, a fog signal is still sounded and an automated light replaced the original “first order” Fresnel lens that still sits in the lighthouse.  The National Park Service is now responsible for the maintenance of the lighthouse and if you are lucky, as we were, an NPS employee may be there to give you some history on this magnificent light.

Much to our delight an immature gray whale spouted off the shoreline, highly unusual for this time of year.  They have normally made their migration south by this time.  Other great animal sightings, we are told, are the elephant seals to be seen just north of the point and the Tule elk, endemic only to California, at Tomales Bay.

Can you see me?

Time to migrate north, as in hoof it up the 300+ steps back to the roadway, as the fog is now settling  in for the night at Point Reyes National Seashore.

Salt pruning at its finest!

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Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore ~ #2

Advice from a Waterfall:  Go with the flow/Roar with excitement/Let your cares fall away/Create your own music/Immerse yourself in nature/Stay active/Make a splash!  ~(c) Ilan Shamir  http://www.yourtruenature.com

Another day of fun in the sun.  Well, not quite today, but it wasn’t raining and we did not have to don parkas so off we went to do some more exploring.  Unfortunately, overcast days don’t work so well for taking photos but I told Terry to give it his best shot.

We headed off to the east part of the park today and our first stop was down the beach about 1.5 miles from Au Sable Light Station.  There was a great path that wound through the woods but we opted instead to walk along the beach, which took us all the way out to the lighthouse.  It was much more picturesque, we thought, with the lake breeze in our face and the waves lapping up on shore.

This stretch of beach lines Au Sable Point (French for “with sand”), which as early as 1622 was recognized as a hazard for mariners.  When the lake traffic began to boom in the 19th century with the opening of the Soo Canal, Au Sable Point was particularly dangerous. Many vessels would become victim to its sandstone reef, which is one-half mile wide and stretches out from the shoreline for a mile, lying no more than six feet below the surface is some spots.  Besides the offshore sandstone reef, the region was infamous for its thick fog as well.  Many a ship went aground here and with the weight of the wooden boats and the small engines used at the time, there was no way for them to recover.

We saw evidence of three shipwrecks, all built in the late 1800’s, on this short stretch of beach.  The picture above is that of the Sitka, which went down about a mile offshore in heavy fog and high winds in October, 1904.  She was 272′ feet in length and her bones now lie on the shore at Au Sable Point.

Mariners felt that “in all navigation of Lake Superior, there is none more dreaded by the mariner than that from Whitefish Point to Grand Island”.  Congress took action in 1872, building a lighthouse on Au Sable Point, which was completed in August, 1874.  It is the most remote lighthouse in the Upper Peninsula.

Au Sable Lighthouse from the Beach

We were fortunate to make the decision to tour the lighthouse today as we learned that tomorrow is the last day of the season for doing so and busloads of tourists are brought out for the day.  We had the place almost to ourselves and, although the park ranger was not available to give a tour, Harold was kind enough to do so.  We learned later that the park ranger is Harold’s daughter and he has been volunteering at Au Sable for the past several years.  His daughter completed her thesis on the lighthouse and has gathered extensive data for the on-site museum.

Au Sable Lighthouse from Land

The beacon for the lighthouse projects 18 miles out to sea and is now powered by a photovoltaic system instead of the original Fresnel lens, which still resides at the lighthouse.  In 1968 the Au Sable Light Station was transferred to the National Park Service, although the Coast Guard continues to maintain the beacon and solar panel that charges the storage battery.

A few miles down the road is the Log Slide, part of the Grand Sable Dunes.  These dunes are believed to have developed during the melting of glacial ice about 9500 years ago.

The picture above is where the Log Slide was during the days of the white pine lumber era in the 1880’s.  Logs were hauled to this point by horse teams then slid down a dry log flume to Lake Superior.  They were loaded onto boats and taken to the Grand Marais sawmills.  Although this sandy hill looks more like a gentle slope, it is a 500′ drop to the bottom, with overhangs hidden at the bottom.  We did not venture far down the slope, given the warnings posted.

From here we took a short hike down to Sable Falls, a 75′ waterfall that tumbles over several cliffs until it reaches Lake Superior.

Sable Falls

We had wanted to take some pictures of the changing colors, as it seems the trees are changing color before our very eyes.  We have been waiting for a summer day and the sun peered out when we were heading back to the campground.  This is not the peak season yet but the trees are spectacular.  Enjoy the colors!

Houghton, MI ~ #2

The day was sunny and cool so we headed north with John and Janie to explore Eagle Harbor, Copper Harbor and Ft. Wilkins State Park.  Our first stop was Ft. Wilkins Historic State Park in Copper Harbor, formerly a U.S. Army post built to keep the peace in Michigan’s Copper Country.  Located at the northern tip of Keweenaw Peninsula, it was established in 1844 and was abandoned just two years later.  The story told is that the miners were law-abiding and the Natives were well-behaved also, so when war was declared with Mexico, the soldiers shipped out.  I am inclined to agree with Janie that given the brutal winter temperatures, leaving for warmer climes was too inviting.  The fort was manned again for a short time in the late 1860’s and became a state park in 1923. It is presently being painstakingly restored to what army life was like in the mid-19th century.

Recreated General Store at the Fort

A restored lighthouse that was originally built in 1848 is reached by boat.  Since we were planning to explore the lighthouse at Eagle Harbor, we decided to pass on this one.

There is a wonderful campground in the park, which is big-rig friendly.  Had we not already had such an appealing site back in Houghton, this would have been a good alternative.

We continued our journey to Eagle Harbor, stopping at a little gift shop along the way. The homemade fudge was delightful and we were given some tips on places to go by one of the gift shop employees.  Heading up Brockway Mountain Drive proved to be a good tip, affording us a view of the bay below.  The leaves were beginning to change as well, which was an added bonus.

View of Copper Harbor and the Bay
Janie & John on Top of Mt. Brockway

Next it was on to Eagle Harbor.  The lighthouse here was originally built in 1851 and replaced in 1871.  It currently houses a museum but continues to be a working lighthouse. The Coast Guard operates the light at the top of the tower, guiding sailors across the northern tip of Keweenaw Peninsula.

Eagle Harbor Lighthouse
Shoreline Below the Lighthouse

A volunteer greeted us as we entered the lighthouse.  Being the polite person that I consider myself to be, I continued to acknowledge his musings even though I was attempting to read some of the history of the building.  The rest of my party made the wiser choice to abandon me and him when his stories began to put them to sleep.  After listening to a story that went absolutely nowhere, I said “I’m done” (to myself of course) and backed away as well.

Me Watching Terry as Janie Snaps a Photo of Him

From here we head back, with a planned stop in Calumet.  We stopped for a quick photo of the landscape.  Can you see the huge freighter in the background?

The town of Calumet had some great old buildings and a great looking brew pub so we decided to stop and taste the local fare.  We had read about the Red Jacket Brewing Company but were sadly disappointed in both the food and the microbrews.  Only one of their own was on tap and they were out of several others.  Thankfully the company was good and the building itself had a great back bar and ceiling mural.

It was a great day and we still had the Parade of Nations to look forward to. Advertisements for this festival were posted around Houghton and Hancock.  This is a multicultural festival honoring the multitude of countries that have come together in this melting pot.  The parade was great fun, with participants in their native dress, but the food festival afterwards was most memorable.  All countries represented had a food booth so there were foods to sample from around the globe.  This was the 22nd year for this festival and it certainly was well attended.  The main entertainment was a group from Madison, WI, named Limanya, a West African drum and dance ensemble.  They were high energy and very impressive!

Michigan Tech band, not very organized, but having a great time.


Our week in Houghton has drawn to an end and sadly we must say goodbye to John and Janie.  We are planning to stay in touch and hope to see them down the road in the future.  Janie has an amusing blog entitled  flamingoonastick.blogspot.com, which I encourage all to check on.  Terry and I are heading on to Munising and Pictured Rocks.

Apostle Islands National Lakeshore ~ #3

There are a total of six lighthouses placed in strategic points among the Apostle Islands. While here we were able to take a ferry to Raspberry Island and tour their newly renovated lighthouse.

Raspberry Island sits 1.5 miles from the mainland and is 1/2 mile in width at its widest, making it one of the smallest of the Apostle Islands.  It was judged to be the perfect location for the second lighthouse.  Sitting on a bluff at the southwest point of the island, this lighthouse served double duty by showing the way to westbound ships passing Bayfield and directing eastbound ships between Bear and York Islands and into the channel around the mainland to Bayfield.

Raspberry Island Lighthouse cost $6,000 to build and its lantern was first lit in 1863. The current standing lighthouse was completed in 1906.  The light of its lantern (5th order fresnel) can be seen for 10 miles and it flashes once every 60 seconds.  W learned that each lighthouse lantern flashes at a different interval so sailors know which lighthouse they are looking at.

A 3/4 mile trek takes you down to the beach.  Looking from any direction you can see islands dotting the channel.   We are still astounded at just how clear the water is, unlike many other lakes we have encountered.

What Terry and I most wanted to see were the sea caves.  Water is such a powerful force and what the waves have done to the sandstone shoreline, both the thawing and freezing action over centuries, is amazing!  Probably the best way to see these is to go with an outfitter or use your own sea kayak and get up close and personal.  This can be dangerous if you don’t know what you are doing, particularly during specific times of the year.  We were approaching the end of the season for sea kayaking so we decided to take a trail off of the mainland to get a bird’s-eye view instead.  We have been told that some of the best sea caves of the Great Lakes are located on the shorelines of the Apostle Islands.

We were pleased to have another couple join us for our hike, a couple we met while Terry was attempting to maneuver the rig into our site.  They are from Iowa and have been full-timing for the 1.5 years.  We were able to glean a great deal of information from them that will be helpful to us and all had a chance to laugh at some of the goofy things we have both done while on this journey.  We are thoroughly enjoying their company and feel we have developed a new friendship.

Janie & John

Probably the most photographed and the most impressive sea caves are those on Devil’s Island and Sand Island, but those we were able to see from the mainland were dramatic as well.

Kayakers Investigating Sea Caves
The Power of Water
Sandstone and Verdant Forest
Me & Janie Enjoying our Hike

From here we are headed to Houghton, Michigan and are pleased that John and Janie were planning a trip there as well.  We are looking forward to creating a few more memories together.