Point Reyes National Seashore

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It takes courage to walk down these steps and stamina to walk back up!

Location: 27099 Sir Francis Drake Blvd., Inverness, CA 94937

Designation: National Seashore

Date NPS designation declared: 10/20/1972

Date of my visit: 8/15/2012

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I have been to Point Reyes on three separate visits to the bay area and just love the serenity of the place. On only one occasion was the lighthouse open. The last time we were there in 2012, there was a sign saying the light was closed Tuesdays and Wednesdays, but there had been no indication of this on the NPS website. I should have called to check when making plans as it was a long, but lovely drive, from San Francisco.  A few years earlier, we’d survived our vertigo and the climb down the steep, narrow 300 stairs to tour the light and speak with a ranger about the history of the area. And to our surprise, we were able to see gray whales migrating past the point from the deck of the lighthouse!

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Female Tule Elk grazing along Tomales Bay

But since this trip was in August, it wasn’t the right time of year to see the whales anyway. So after a peaceful picnic lunch (I recommend stopping at Tomales Bay Foods for provisions in Point Reyes station before heading into the park. There is nowhere to get food once inside the park and the roads between points are long, narrow, slow and rural) we headed to the Tule Elk Preserve on the other side of the park.

The Tomales Point Trail is a lovely, mostly level path that hugs the coastline. To hike from the lot all the way to the point and back again is about 7-8 miles. That is a little longer than our group was willing to go, but fortunately we did find a herd of Tule Elk about 2.5 miles in.  In our quest for a sighting, we happened upon a ranger who pointed us in the right direction and told us a little of the history of the preserve. The Elk who thrive there today have been brought back from the brink of extinction. We were grateful to see these magnificent animals!

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A bull leading the herd away from us. I had a thing for filters back then.
The hiking and the ocean air worked up our appetites and we stopped for dinner at the Olema farmhouse on our drive back to the city. There are still many areas of this park left for us to explore on future visits, like the cypress tree tunnel and the shipwreck.

John Muir NHS

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The historic Muir/Strentzel home in Martinez, California

Location: 4202 Alhambra Avenue, Martinez, California

Designation: National Historic Site

Date NPS designation declared: 8/31/1964

Date of my visit: Sept 2017

The John Muir NHS is must visit for fans of the National Park Service, since John Muir was considered the father of the NPS. He was a naturalist and writer who inspired the creation of the National Park Service and was the first president of the Sierra Club. He was responsible for the preservation of Yosemite and several of our other natural treasures as National Parks.

We visited the site during an awful heat wave in the Bay Area ( I think it was 108F that day!) We were grateful for the air conditioning in the visitors center and thoroughly enjoyed the 20 minute film about John Muir’s remarkable life.

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People were TINY in the 1800s!

After we’d watched the film we trudged uphill (the hill seemed almost vertical, but then it was seriously HOT) to take a ranger-led tour of the historic home. The NPS website says tours are only of the ground floor, but our ranger, a self-professed John Muir groupie, did take us to some of the rooms upstairs. The home has been beautifully restored and maintained  by the NPS and the ranger was full of anecdotes and factoids that made history come alive for all in our group.

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Water wagon?

There are other things to do on this site…we were told we could pick fruit in the orchards, take a cell phone tour of the grounds and climb Mount Wanda…but again…HOT. With a disabled family member along for the tour, we had to save this for another day.

In spite of the unpleasant weather, we loved visiting John Muir NHS. If you are in the bay area, it’s definitely worth the side trip to this off-the-beaten-path gem. There are also a few other lesser known NPS units out this way, like Rosie the Riveter, which I will review separately.