Tuesday, September 29, 2015

West Coast Vacation: Point Lobos

When we checked into the Secret Garden in Carmel, Michael, our host, recommended that we visit the Point Lobos State Natural Reserve and hike the Cypress Grove Trail.  On this trail, he told us, we would see one of only two places where the Monterey Cypress trees grew naturally - the other being on the Monterrey Peninsula around Pebble Beach.  (More on that in a future post.)  While Monterrey Cypress are found other places, it's because they have been planted there by people.

On Wednesday morning, Sept. 23, we decided to visit the park early in the morning to get in a walk before breakfast.  During a couple hours spent at the park, we saw some spectacular scenery.  It was the highlight of the vacation so far, and it spoiled us for some of the scenery we saw later in the trip.

Point Lobos is a 350 acre park located three miles south of Carmel on Hwy 1.  The reserve includes several offshore areas - accessible only to divers.  

The name "Point Lobos" is derived from "Punta de los Lobos Marinos" or "Point of the Sea Wolves" - so named because sea lions frequent the offshore rocks.  We saw a few of these original residents during our hike.  They were sunning themselves on a rock about a hundred yards offshore.

The Cypress Grove trail takes you through the Allan Memorial Grove - named for Alexander Allan, an engineer and conservationist who, in the 1930's, bought much of the land that now makes up the Point Lobos Reserve.  At that time a real estate developer had drawn up plans to sell a thousand tracts for houses and create a subdivision called "Carmelito".  We are fortunate that Mr. Allan intervened!  The trail follows the contours of a point that juts out into the ocean.  The combination of forest and ocean creates some memorable views. 

As we began our hike, before we ever saw the ocean, we saw the cypress trees silhouetted against a clear blue morning sky.  There is something about the shape of these trees that lets you know you are no longer in your familiar back yard.  You are approaching something wild and different.

In the morning light, the forest could be alternately beautiful and spooky.  Some of the trees looked like they belonged in story books.  Harry Potter could have had a nasty encounter with this one.

And then we rounded a bend in the trail and began to see the trees against the backdrop of the sea crashing over the rocks.

Following the trail leads to views of larger rock formations, with Carmel across the bay in the background.

In places, there is an eeriness to the grove.  Some of the trees are bleached white by the salt spray.  Many have an orange lichen growing on them.  The combination is otherworldly.


We spent over an hour walking slowly along the mile long Cypress Grove trail.  It was early in the day and there were no other visitors to the park.  The only sound was that of the surf, and the occasional sea bird flying nearby.  In some places, the early morning fog had still not burned off.


A different trail in the Reserve takes you around Whaler's Cove and to the Whaler's Cabin - a small structure built in the 1850's by Chinese fishermen.  It has been restored and now houses a small museum with exhibits on the various commercial fishing ventures that have taken place in the area over the last 150 years.  During the restoration, pieces of whale vertebrae were found used as foundation stones.  The large tree at the end of the building was probably a sapling when the cabin was built.  It now protrudes into the building.  In this photo, Mary and Katherine, the docent on duty, are setting up a telescope to get a closer look at a pair of egrets across the cove.

So much of what we've seen on this trip is accessible (though not fully appreciated) through the window of a car.  Our experience at Point Lobos was shaped in large measure by the time and pace of our examination.  To see it required us to get out of the car and make an effort.  We could not rush by it, talking on cell phones or listening to the radio.  We had to walk slowly and deliberately.  The path was prepared for us, but it was rocky and uneven and required our attention to every step.  We had to "be there", to be aware and mindful of our surroundings.  And because we took our time, we came away with clear memories, images not blurred by velocity or inattention.  We saw something worth seeing ... and worth remembering.   

Sadly, my small photos on this small web page don't do justice to the beauty we saw at Point Lobos.  I guess you'll just have to go there and see it yourself.  Please do!


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