If I only had one choice to pick a place to go on the Sonoma Coast, the answer would be – Salt Point State Park. Besides the rock formations and the wildflowers, this 6,000 acre park offers coastal headlands and hilly forests. And every day is different. And wonderful. In January, we just made it back to the car before the rain hit. We weren’t going to have to worry about that on this warm June day.
June 2014 Update: Access to Stump Beach and Fisk Mill are open again!
The drive up the coast on Hwy 1 was winding, the air over the ocean only slightly misty and there were no whitecaps. I saw several rogue walkers making like the cows who graze the steep inclines and I hoped they didn’t roll off to the rocks below.
We turned off at Salt Point Gerstle Cove Campground 18.5 miles north of Jenner. Already hungry we went past the crowded Visitor Center to a picnic area for lunch. The ground was covered with purple and white flowers (some kind of gilia?), the sun warm and the wind cool. The ocean waved dark blue against the rocks.
The Kashaya Pomo once lived in this area, harvested salt and had a rich fish diet. We had turkey sandwiches.
After lunch the Visitor Center was still crowded – it is a very small building – so we went on the parking lot closest to the ocean. The lot was full of vehicles, for fellow-walkers and for abalone divers. Someone from Fish and Game was checking the catches.
At the south end of the lot, the path is paved for a short distance, through blooming yellow lupines. Around some rocks to a dirt road, the different formations start to appear in the sandstone cliffs: smooth plaster, filigree, creases and cracks. Tafoni is the term for the lace-like sandstone carved by the ocean.
The meadows were filled with Sea Thrift, sometimes intermingled with Golfdfields, Checker Mallow, Tidytips, dandelions, and Morning Glories. In January, there were hardly any flowers, but even last June the meadow mix was different, more Goldfields and then even the Coastal Iris were still blooming.
Also, this year, there weren’t as many pelicans flying in groups but we definitely had more American Goldfinch. The males in bright yellow for the breeding season, roller-coasted by or pecked at the ground for some goodies. And we repeatedly saw pairs of orange butterflies mad about sex.
In just over a ½ mile the path leads back to the dirt road and it gets a little soggy, even in June. The vegetation changes and is more lush. Salal bushes are full of berries.
Across the road is a large outcrop, where over time rock has split off in huge chunks. Not many sticks remain but some artist or series of artists had accessorized the rocks. (I added a few sticks myself once.)
This area was used for lumber and stone to support the building of San Francisco in the mid 1800s. A hotel and town existed for a time, before it was given back to nature. You can still see stone blocks left behind.
Back on the dirt road we passed a cove that had a few seals taking a sunbath, and an abalone diver coming in.
We passed a series of coves with varying rock formations and vegetation that clung to the stone. In one, rocks were imbedded quilt-like (think Klimt) in the sandstone. In another, vertical and horizontal creases created cabinets with knobs on each door. In another there are small boulders of a beach fit for Gulliver’s Brobdingnagians. Sandy beaches are stranded high above the water. Chocolate colored dirt seemed to glow against the yellow lupines. Great slabs uplifted to the ocean or tilted down in a slide to the water.
In about 1 ½ mile the path comes to overlook a white sand beach. The water was a vibrant aqua blue. An osprey repeatedly positioned himself in one spot high above the water. We gave up watching, since we didn’t have the patience he did looking for his lunch.
There are various loops one can make on these headlands, but the joy of out and back is seeing the land in a new perspective.
See you on the trail!
Photos by Mike Millar
More Salt Point: The uphill portion of the park is on the other side of Hwy 1. In geological terms the area is a series of uplifted plateaus. One place to hike is to the top plateau, where the pygmy trees grow. You can feel you’re in Florida or New Jersey, with white ground and small pines.
for another visit click on Salt Point
Parking: $8 day use. Buy a pass or vote for the vehicle registration fee in November.
Bathroom: July 1st all the bathrooms should be open. Until then, only the one by the campground are open. (As of Jan 2014, the bathrooms are all open!)
Dogs: No dogs. – okay on paved roads and parking lots with leash.
Food: We brought our own. You could try the amazingly small store in Ocean Cove Store. We went on to Gualala, but that is next week’s post.
meanwhile back to walking…