14-Mar-2010 -- No low hanging fruit at Point Reyes National Seashore on a weekend in March! You’d think if you combined one of Joseph Kerski’s thorough trip reports with your own previous personal visit to the neighborhood (even if that visit was before the turn of the century!), then throw in a printout of a Google Earth satellite view, you’d have all the information you’d need for a painless/ easy/ simple/ foolproof confluence point hunt. And 99% of the time you’d be right... But a lack of due diligence in my preparation caught up with me on a gloriously lovely spring day at one of America’s fastest moving national parks (that would be Pt. Reyes moving northward towards Alaska on the Pacific Plate at about the rate of 9.5 inches per century).
We had taken my wife’s spring break to come to California to (for me) visit America’s newest national park, and (for my wife) “see tall trees.” Confluence hunting was not a primary goal, but having given some thought to the idea of eventually visiting a cp on each of the meridians within the coterminous United States, I thought we might knock out some easy points along the 38th parallel, and the Point Reyes confluence looked about as easy as it gets…
I was expecting to pull off the road within 500 yards and quickly bag a confluence before continuing a leisurely drive up the northern California coast towards the magnificent coastal redwood groves. No such luck!
The problem is parking, or lack thereof. The previous day over 1,100 cars made their way across the San Andreas Fault on Sir Francis Drake Boulevard. For most of these visitors, the trip would not be complete without a stop at the famous Point Reyes lighthouse. And that much traffic would overwhelm the limited parking at the Lighthouse Visitor Center.
The National Park Service’s answer to this conundrum is to shuttle folks by bus from the ample parking at the Ken Patrick Visitor Center. To make the system work, the NPS blocks cars past the turnoff to the South Beach parking lot.
On foot, you’re free to wander as you please, as long as you avoid the buildings at the many working ranches, but at the roadblock you’re still 3.5 miles short of the cp,
All this was clearly explained on the park’s website, if I’d taken the trouble to check it out:
“Headlands Winter Road Closures/
Weekends And Holidays/
Late December - Mid-April/
9:00 a.m. to 5:30 p.m./
Sir Francis Drake Boulevard is CLOSED beyond South Beach Junction to visitor motor traffic. Visitors' vehicles are NOT permitted in the closed area between 9:00 a.m. to approximately 5:30 p.m. when the shuttles are operating. Access to the Lighthouse and Chimney Rock during the closure is only available by shuttle bus, bicycle or by foot.
Shuttle Bus Service/
$5.00 per person/
Children 16 and under free”
So, what to do? I changed into my running shorts, threw the GPS, camera, spare batteries, and a water bottle into a day pack and started off at a jog. Wanting to see the lighthouse, my wife headed back to try the shuttle system. She would later wave at me twice from a moving bus, which doesn't make "local" stops no matter how nicely you ask the driver.
Except for a few passing bicyclists, I had the road to myself. I had a gentle breeze, a little haze out on the ocean and a naturally quiet pastoral scene to enjoy. Except for burning daylight I’d planned on using to drive up the coast, you couldn’t have asked for a more pleasant hike. Then about every ten minutes I had to jump out of the way of a large shuttle bus, many of them returning from the lighthouse empty.
The topography’s up and down increased as I approached Ranch A. The narrow road had several tight turns as it negotiated the local landscape. Wishing for more orienteering skills then I possess, I contemplated the cross country route used by Ray Yip in February 2005 and compared it to the longer route of following the paved road: down and up and trying to calculate the number of barbwire fences to be navigated along the way versus the time needed to reach the cp by a longer walk approaching from the other side. I stayed on the road until I passed A Ranch, then shimmied under the barb wire, carefully stepped across the muddy feed lot, then headed up and across the steep slope.
After rushing to reach the spot, I found myself lingering far longer than necessary to document the visit. What a pretty place and what a pleasant afternoon! I had to pick up the pace on the way back to the roadblock, and still arrived back at the start 25 minutes later than planned. The alternative this weekend would have been taking the bus out to the lighthouse point, then hike back to the cp (about 2.5 miles roundtrip), before catching a return shuttle. This would cut three miles off the hike, but might not save any time, as on this day my wife and I rendezvoused at the drop-off point after arriving only a few minute apart. Mission accomplished, we hugged the coast for a while enjoying the scenic drive, then headed inland to Highway 101 to make better time north to see those tall trees…