The Questionable Tastes of Bighorn Sheep… Plus Mosaic Canyon, Death Valley

Our house is in the final stages of being sold. We signed off on it today. The buyers will complete their part by the end of the month. “We’re homeless,” Peggy declared. “No,” I suggested. “our home is wherever we happen to be.” So what if it happens to be 22 feet long and is pulled by a F-150 pickup.

Right now we are in Flagstaff, Arizona. It’s a lovely community filled with friendly people, great restaurants, a fascinating culture, and bookstores. The Grand Canyon is an hour’s drive north. Sedona is an hour’s drive south. A five minute trip out of town yesterday found us scrambling up and down steep canyon walls searching for thousand year old petroglyphs left behind by the Anasazi, ancestors of our modern Southwestern Native Americans. There are certainly worse places we could be.

But as delightful as this area is, we will be out of here this week. We are modern day gypsies, full-timers as they say in the RV world. The freedom of the open road is ours. We aren’t rookies at this. Once Peggy and I wandered around North America for a year. Another time it was for three years. We don’t know how long we will be this time. Our goal is something like ‘as long as we can get away with it.’ Given our combined age of 151, who knows...

Our focus will be on the wild areas of North America. Once again this will include the National Parks of the US and Canada. We’ve been to most of them, but this time we want to explore places we haven’t been, places where the vast majority of tourists aren’t. Today’s post on Mosaic Canyon is an example.

Mosaic Canyon is easy to get to. It’s just above Stove Pipe Wells, one of Death Valley’s main tourist watering holes. And it’s quite beautiful, as this photo by Peggy shows. But it isn’t advertised as one of the “must see tourists sites,” like Zabriskie Point for example. When Peggy and I visited Zabriskie, there must have been a hundred people there. We ran into a half dozen or so at Mosaic Canyon. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)
On our way over to Mosaic Canyon, we passed by the Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes, which are always worth a photo. The sand dunes are located next to Stove Pipe Wells and are easily accessible for a hike. Note the person on top. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)
Here is the road up to Mosaic Canyon. It’s gravel and dirt and a bit bumpy but short. (photo by Peggy Mekemson.)
The entrance to the canyon is a wide wash. It quickly narrows down! You can see two of the six people we shared the canyon with. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)
I captured this shot of the narrows.
Another example. The smooth walls on the left are marble made from Noonday Dolomite.
The national park site recommended walking carefully when crossing the marble because of its slickness. Peggy solved the problem by sliding down. Her shadow makes it looks like she was levitating. “I’m Mary Poppins,” she declared when she saw the photo. But where’s the umbrella?
This breccia is another common rock found in Mosaic Canyon. You can see why it gives the canyon its name.
We were excited to find these flowers growing in the canyon. We had missed the profusion of flowers that sometimes appear in Death Valley after a rare spring rainstorm. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)

I took a close up. As you can see it’s pretty. But what’s with the hairy leaves. Turns out that this is a desert rock nettle, eucnide urens. If you have ever had a close encounter with nettles, you’ll know that means: ‘don’t touch!’
It’s a message that bighorn sheep ignore. Apparently they love the flowers. I caught this statue of a bighorn at the visitors’ center. I could see where its metal mouth might come in handy!
Eventually, we returned to the exit. Death Valley stretched out before us. We had lunch at Stove Pipe Wells and then returned to our parking lot campsite.

I’m not a huge fan of Sunset Campground at Furnace Creek. It’s a huge parking lot. The advantage is that it rarely fills up, which is not the case for the more desirable sites in the valley. I’ve used it three times over the years, mainly because my trips are never planned months in advance when registration opens up. When Peggy and I arrived, I expected that most of its 270 sites would be full. It was Easter weekend. What we quickly learned was that the campground closed for the season in four days. There were a half a dozen other vehicles in the huge area. When we left, there were two. In addition to normally being available, there are two other plusses: its close proximity to all of the services at Furnace Creek— and the views.

This was the view from our campsite.
Peggy took a close up.
One night we sat outside and watched the sun set in the west…
…and the moon rise. I’ll end my Death Valley posts with this photo. Next, we are off to Zion National Park.

What Color Would a Death Valley Artist Paint a Pupfish in Love?

The rocks at Death Valley’s Artist’s Palette are world famous for their color.

Geology is up close and personal at Death Valley. The Valley floor and sides, stripped free of most vegetation, can’t help but show their true colors. The most colorful place to check out these colors is along the paved one-way Artist’s Palette’s drive, which is near the Devil’s Golf Course, Gold Canyon, and Bad Water basin, other treasures of the Valley.

The colors you see are the result of oxidation of various metals. One example of oxidation that everyone is familiar with is the formation of rust on iron. Along Artist’s Drive, iron compounds create the red, pink and yellow you see. Mica derived from tuff, produces the green. Manganese produces the purple. (Tuff is a light, porous rock created from volcanic ash.)

A close up of the rocks at Artist’s Palette.

While visiting the Artist’s Palette overlook is the objective, the drive itself is worth the trip. I took the following photos while Peggy was driving. (It was her turn.) In addition to the scenery, there were fun curves and roller coaster ups and downs!

Road shot one.
Road shot two.
Road shot number three featuring the nose of Iorek the truck.

Of course the fun road also has beautiful scenery along it. Artist’s Palate has hardly cornered the market on color, as Peggy’s photos demonstrate.

Photo by Peggy Mekemson.
Photo by Peggy Mekemson.
Photo by Peggy Mekemson.

Now, let’s get back to the question raised in the Headline: Assuming an artist is in Death Valley has a full palette of colors, which one would he choose to paint a pupfish in love? Enquiring minds want to know.

But first, some background. You’ve probably heard of pupfish. There are several species scattered in locations around the National Park. Once upon a time they were happy residents of a huge lake that filled Death Valley. Lake Manly was a result of the Glacial Age. When the glaciers retreated to the far north and mountain tops 10,000 years ago, the lake was left to dry up and the pupfish were left scrambling for any remaining bits of water left, like individual springs. Lack of any contact created a number of subspecies.

The ones I will feature today live in Salt Creek. Their much more famous cousins live outside of the the Valley proper in what is known as Devil’s Hole, a 430 foot deep hole in the ground filled with water. What makes them so famous is that they are a critically endangered species. Today, there are less than 100 left. There were more in the 1960s but even then they were rare enough to be declared an endangered species, one of the first species to be so, seven years before the bipartisan passage of the Endangered Species Act of 1973.

Environmentalists the world over were ecstatic. The business people not so much. Nearby ranchers were limited in how much water they could pump out of the ground and developers in what land they could sell. Profits would be reduced. All that to save a tiny fish from extinction. A “Kill the Pupfish,” “Save the Pupfish” bumper sticker war ensued. National headlines were created and people across the country became aware of the pupfish. It is still a symbol of the ongoing battle between those who see objects primarily in terms of money and those who see them primarily in terms of inherent value. Being a lifelong environmentalist, I come down on the side of the pupfish, but I feel empathy for those whose livelihood was impacted.

Now join Peggy and me as we go in search of the ‘illusive’ pupfish of salt creek, whose males turn bright blue when they are in love, or is that lust. Either way, I’m glad that isn’t an infliction of human males.

A road sign some 15 minutes west of the Furnace Creek Visitor’s Center points you down a short, but bumpy dirt road to Salt Creek. The first thing you notice is that there is indeed a creek, which is a rare site in Death Valley. We were lucky to be there in April when it was still flowing. The second thing we noticed was that a well-built board walk followed along the creek.We eagerly set out with our eyes pealed on the water, searching. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)

No fish here. But I enjoyed the dapples of bright sunlight…

Again, no fish. I was stuck with admiring the ripple patterns caught by the sun. But where were the pupfish?

Again, nice riparian habitat, but for what. And then…
There they were. Busy male pupfish protecting their territory and looking for love! They didn’t appear blue to us, however. Maybe they weren’t ready for prime time. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)
Right next to it was a pool absolutely teeming with the little fellows. Apparently they hadn’t received the message about being endangered. We learned that the word prolific hardly fit when describing the baby producing capacity of the females. And the males were more than willing to do their share. The literature used the word ‘millions’ when describing a season’s production. Unfortunately, when the creek dries up most of these offspring are lost. Only those that live near the spring in year around water survive— and wait for the next year so they can one again start their frenzy of propagating. (Photo buy Peggy Mekemson.)
An information panel gave an artist’s rendition of a happy couple. “But where’s the blue?” went dashing through my head. Remember the old “Where’s the beef?” commercials. Okay, I admit that there is some blue, and it is on the male. The panel described the mating process. And it isn’t even R-rated. A female arrives in the males territory, swims over to him, and snuggles up to his side. They start shivering in anticipation, and zoom, she’s pregnant. Just like that. I’d say something about being premature but apparently, that’s how it’s done. “Was it good for you, honey?”

When you watch pupfish for a while they appear to be playful, dashing around, chasing each other, and plowing up the dirt with their noses. That’s where they get the name pupfish. We wished this year’s crop good luck and I took a final photo of the creek as we headed off for out next adventure: exploring Mosaic Canyon, which will be our next post.

Water is precious in the desert and the pupfish is only one of a number of animals and birds that take advantage of Salt Creek as is makes its way out into the desert to disappear into the sand.

Who’s Smarter: A Mule Or a Horse? Plus Death Valley’s Beautiful 20 Mule Team Canyon

Who’s smarter? This girl with her wild eyes and gorgeous eyelids…
Or this fellow with a large nose and impressive nose hairs?

Or, the question going through your mind might be, “Why in the heck is Curt asking this question when his post is on Death Valley?”

Well, it started when I was doing research on Death Valley’s well-know, historic 20 Mule Team. Given that I am featuring the 20 Mule Canyon on my post today, I wanted to provide some background information, which I will. But the first thing I learned (or relearned) was that it wasn’t a 20 mule team that was used to haul borax out of Death Valley from 1893-96. It actually consisted of 18 mules and 2 horses. All of the animals had very specific tasks. Some required more intelligence than others.

Luckily for me, the town just up the road from where we camped near Bryce Canyon (Tropic) had a Mules Days event going on and there was a horse corral just across the road from us in Cannonville. I was able to persuade a mule and a horse to pose for me.

There is a ton of information on the twenty mule teams. This may seem like a lot until you take into consideration that the 18 mules and 2 horses were actually hauling close to 9 tons of Borax at a time out of Death Valley in temperatures that sometimes exceeded a 100 degrees F. (Operations were halted over the hot summer months.) They started their epic journey from the Harmony Borax Works near Furnace Creek and traveled for 165 miles over primitive roads to the railhead near Mohave. As you might imagine, it was quite the challenge. It required close to a heroic effort on the part of the mules, the horses and the muleskinners. Millions of dollars could be made if the venture was successful, however, and it was. Borax has lots of uses.

Still, all of this would be a mere note in the history books except for a couple of factors. One, Borax Soap featured the mules in a very extensive advertising campaign. The second was the radio and TV program, Death Valley Days. For those of you who are old enough to remember the 50s and 60s TV show, you may also remember that Ronald Reagan hosted the show in the mid 60s just before he jumped into his campaign for California Governor.

I think this 20 mule team traveling through 20 Mule Canyon is a team that Borax Soap used to promote its product. The photo is from the US Borax’s Visitor Center in Boron, which is well worth a stop. The two large wagons were for hauling the borax. The last wagon contained water for the mules since water holes were few and far between on the long, dry 10-day journey— and it was very thirsty work. The man at the back of the line is riding one of the two horses. The two lead mules, both female, have bells.
This historic photo provides a good perspective on just how big the wagons were. The large wheel is seven feet tall. The man on the left is the muleskinner who was in charge. On his right was his swamper who carried out a number of supportive jobs including handling a back up brake to be used if the wagon decided to run away going down hill.The muleskinner earned $4 per day, his swamper, $2, and the Chinese laborers who did the hardest work of digging out the borax, $1.25

I found a rather amusing, imaginary discussion with a muleskinner on the Death Valley National Park site. The greatest challenge he noted was in getting around corners. He used a diagram to describe the operation. An 80 foot chain connects the lead mules to the wagon.

Here’s what he had to say about the process: “Now I’ll tell you just how smart my mules is: it’s one thing drivin’ along a straight road; it’s a whole nother thing turnin’ corners on a mountain pass. My 2 lead mules, both mares, are about 80 feet ahead of me–so far away I can’t even begin to use my 9-foot long whip on ‘em. I’ve been known to throw pebbles at ‘em to get their attention. Aim’s good too. Back to gettin’ around corners. The next 5 pairs of mules are my “swing teams”, they ain’t real smart, they just know their names and what ‘pull’ and ‘stop’ means. Now the next 3 sets of mules behind the swings are my “pointers”. These mules are trained special to jump over that 80-foot chain and side-step away from the curve to keep that chain tight and my wagons goin’ ‘round that corner right. Next comes the 2 big horses. They’re strong enough to start my wagons rollin’, but that’s all they’re good for. A dumb mule (and I ain’t seen one yet) is a whole lot smarter than a smart horse.”

So, there you have it— which animal is smarter. At least from the perspective of a muleskinner. I’ll allow that a horse lover might have a different point of view. Grin. And now, it’s time to get away from all of the words and take you through 20 Mule Canyon in photos. The canyon starts no more than a mile above Zabriskie Point. And even though the road is dirt, cars with two wheel drive seem to handle it easily.

The dirt road.
Photo by Peggy Mekemson.
Photo by Peggy Mekemson.
Photo by Peggy Mekemson.
Peggy caught a photo of me hiking up a trail. There are a number of stops along the road where you can get out, stretch your legs and take photos, if you want.
I captured this photo of Peggy Woohoo! And the next two photos.
I’ll conclude today with this photo of a very colorful place along the road. The colors are created by the oxidation of minerals/metals. I cover which metals cause which colors in my next post. It will be on the even more colorful drive to the Artists Palette. I am going to feature pup fish as well. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)

To bring you up to date, Peggy and I have now spent a week in Zion Canyon National Park and a week in Bryce. We are now in the small, but fun community of Kanab, perched on the border between Utah and Arizona. Here’s a photo we took last week to give you a view of things to come.

A pair of hoodoos we found near Bryce Canyon. The name hoodoo is derived from a Paiute Indian name meaning scary. I think I can see why.

Going on a -.-. — .– Walk at Pt. Reyes… Plus: Peggy Snuggles up to a Police Horse

The cows had a hungry look in their eyes. We were thankful they were vegetarians.

Peggy and I had decided to revisit an old favorite of ours, the Palomarin Trail that enters Pt. Reyes National Seashore from the south. We had driven down to Bolinas and were on our way out the narrow, pothole-filled road that leads to the trailhead when we saw a series of poles, lined up like they were standing at attention in ranks. I knew immediately what they were. 

The poles were part of the historic Marconi wireless radio station near Bolinas. At one point, they had been connected by wires.

In 1914, decades before the likes of Elon Musk and his techie cohorts started working on worldwide wireless technology, Guglielmo Marconi, the inventor of the wireless radio, had built a huge, wireless radio station near Bolinas to send Morse Code messages flying across the Pacific Ocean, setting up the first-ever communication system between ships at sea and land. A small parking lot was connected to a walking trail that wound its way past the historic poles and toward the ocean. We were easily diverted from our original intent of hiking the Palomarin Trail.  

The pole-filled field was doing double-duty as a cow pasture and a herd of cattle insisted on checking us out— up close and personal. It was lunch time and they may have thought we were sneaking alfalfa past them. The Morse Code in the title, BTW, spells C -.-. O —, W .–, in case you were wondering. And boy, that takes me back to my Boy Scout days in the 50s when memorizing Morse Code was essential to working your way up through the ranks.

We checked out the poles, talked with the cattle, and had a pleasant walk out to the coast with both Peggy and me taking photos. 

Not quite Mt. Everest, but I was still willing to pose for Peggy. We found large cement blocks throughout the area. At first, I though they might have been part of the coastal fortifications the US built along the Pacific Coast in WW II. Then we decided they were used to anchor the poles and wires. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)
A whole herd of cattle was lined up along the road. They remained on the road, not budging as we walked by.
I thought this young fellow munching on grass was quite handsome.
Peggy stopped to admire a lone tree on our walk. The brush had a soft, welcoming look to it. But looks can be deceiving!
It was close to impenetrable.
As we approached the coast, the Pacific Ocean stretched off into the distance. The Farallon Islands can be seen as bumps on the horizon. They were once known at ‘The Devil’s Teeth’ for their ability to rip the bottoms out of sailing ships. In the 1800s, millions of birds’ eggs were taken from the islands to feed San Francisco’s growing population. Today the islands are a designated wilderness area and are part of a marine sanctuary. The birds no longer have to worry about their babies being stolen.
Looking north, we saw some of the towering cliffs found along the Pt. Reyes National Seashore. Sir Frances Drake, the renowned English hero and buccaneer (fancy name for pirate), apparently admired these cliffs on his visit to the area in 1579. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)
Looking south we could see the giant Sutro Tower that dominates the San Francisco skyline. Herb Caen, the well known and beloved columnist of the San Francisco Chronicle, once described the tower as a “giant erector” that was stalking and planning to eat the Golden Gate Bridge. I read Caen religiously when I was growing up. It was back when newspapers still had a sense of humor, before they adopted their Doomsday, Penny Henny view of the world. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)

Afterwards, we stopped off in Bolinas for lunch. It’s another favorite coastal town of mine. One reason is the fact that the locals refuse to have signs leading into the town from Highway 1 for tourists to follow. Whenever Cal Trans puts one up, it’s torn down. I think that Cal Trans has finally given up. At least I didn’t see any signs. It has always been a fun, quirky town with its own unique cast of characters. Last time when Peggy and I visited with our friends Ken and Leslie Lake, we came on a bookstore without staff. A sign said “Take any book you want and leave whatever you think the book is worth to you in the cash box.” It was a very Bolinas type of thing.

While I’m on Bolinas stories, I’ll mention that it was also the site of my first ‘Hippie’ experience. I’d stopped in the town in 1968/69 and decided to do a little sunbathing on its infamous nude beach, which I had read about in the San Francisco Chronicle. It was a time before Google listed “The Best Nude Beaches in Marin County,” a time when the Protestant ethic still reigned supreme among America’s middle class. I confess I was a little nervous about getting naked, but it was the sunburn that left a lasting memory!

A sign of the times in Bolinas. As we were walking through the town in search of lunch, we came across a car with a ladder on top that included a sign that set me to laughing. I could identify with it.

Having featured cattle today, it is only right that I should feature a horse as well. It’s a requirement of the Old West. The day after our Bolinas walk found Peggy and I hoofing it along the Bear Valley Trail. It connects the Visitor’s Center with the ocean in an 8-mile round trip. We were feeling our oats, so to speak, when we came across a pair of real hoofers, i.e. horses. A woman was walking one and stopped to chat. As it turns out the horses were part of ‘San Francisco’s Finest.’ It was a police horse, a proud member of the mounted patrol that can often be found patrolling Golden Gate Park. They’ve been at it continuously since 1864. The horses were out for a play day on the Bear Valley Trail. 

Peggy, who likes horses, insisted on snuggling up to it and I dutifully snapped a photo on our iPhone. I, on the other hand, am not a horse person. It isn’t their size, their looks, or their personality, all of which I find pleasing. It’s their smell, and the fact that they often leave prodigious piles of poop along hiking trails. Have you ever seen a sign that says “Clean up after your horse?” I’m not sure what it is about their smell, but it clings to you. I wonder if cowgirls and cowboys think of it as perfume? 

Peggy snuggles up with the horse along the Bear Valley trail.

That does it for today. I’ll wrap up our recent visit to Pt. Reyes in my next post. Then it will be off to Fort Bragg and Mendocino.

When the Big One Strikes… A Hike Along Earthquake Trail: Pt. Reyes

At 7.9 on the Richter scale, the 1906 San Francisco Earthquake wreaked massive damage both in structures destroyed and lives lost. This photo is from the National Archives.

I was wrapping up my day at the Lung Association in Sacramento when the building started moving shortly after 5 p.m. on October 17th, 1989. Peggy and I were at the very beginning of our relationship. You might say, it was off to a shaky start. “Is this the big one?” leapt into my mind as I ran outside. But buildings weren’t falling or people screaming. “Not this time,” we thought, relieved. 

Had you been one of 62,000 baseball fans crammed into Candlestick Park for the World Series, or worse, commuting home from work in the Bay Area, your perspective would have been substantially different. A major 6.9 earthquake had ripped into the Santa Cruz Mountains along the San Andreas Fault south of the stadium. Nearby freeways collapsed including a section of the Bay Bridge, numerous buildings were destroyed or damaged, 63 people were killed and 3,757 injured by what became known as the Loma Prieta Earthquake.

A number of faults are located under the Bay Area. The next big earthquake is projected to be along the Hayward Fault. The Pt. Reyes National Seashore is the land jutting out to the left of the San Andreas fault at the top of the diagram.

Eighty-three years before the Loma Prieta earthquake, an even greater one shook the Bay Area. Blame plate tectonics. The San Andreas Fault, marks a distinct boundary as the Pacific Plate grinds its way north past the North American Plate, building pressure until an earthquake erupts.  At 7.9 on the Richter Scale, the energy released from the 1906 San Francisco Earthquake equaled blowing up an estimated 6,270,000 tons of TNT! 

Earthquake Trail, found next to the Visitors’ Center at Pt. Reyes National Seashore, commemorates the event. Peggy and I were there last week and went for a walk along the trail. Like San Francisco, Pt. Reyes felt the full fury of the earthquake as portions of the land moved north as much as 20 feet.

With arms stretched out, Peggy points to two sections of a fence that were separated during the San Francisco Earthquake. They have been rebuilt to demonstrate the power of the earthquake. The lower fence had moved 16 feet north. The San Andreas Fault is located directly under Peggy’s feet.

The trail is easy to hike and is well marked with information signs. Its bucolic, serene beauty makes the damage done by the 1906 earthquake hard to imagine, however. 

A bridge along Earthquake Trail at Pt. Reyes National Seashore. Photo by Curt Mekemson.
The peaceful beauty found along the Earthquake Trail at Pt. Reyes belies the potentially destructive force that lies just beneath it. Fall leaves added color.
While the trail is short and easy to hike, it provides a variety of scenery, like this meadow…
Interesting trees are perfect for little people to explore… (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)
A fun stump found along the trail.
Peggy took an interesting closeup. She saw a dragon, a monster, and more….oh, my.
Birch.
Moss
Various Conifers…
And in conclusion, a bit of sunshine.

NEXT POST: More photos from around Pt. Reyes National Seashore and our maiden three week voyage with Iorek the Truck and Serafina the trailer.

Abbots Lagoon and Pt. Reyes Station… A Trail Hike Plus a Favorite Small Town

Abbot’s Lagoon is a great place for bird watchers. Or people watchers. This great blue heron with its neck stretched out like a rubber band had a wary eye on Peggy. Wisely so. She was stalking it with her camera. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)

It’s a wrap on my Pt. Reyes series today. Peggy and I will take you for a hike out to Abbot’s Lagoon and a visit to Pt. Reyes Station, a favorite town of mine.

The hike is suitable for almost anyone. We even watched a mom and dad pushing their baby along in a stroller. How much easier can it get? The baby seemed quite happy as did the parents. Visitors can turn around whenever they want, hike out to the Lagoon, or go on a leisurely stroll all the way to the ocean. We chose the latter.

The Abbot’s Lagoon trailhead leading out from the parking lot. The Lagoon can be seen in the distance. The Pacific Ocean is out beyond the Lagoon. The narrow strip you can see on the left is the continuation of the trail.
The red marker shows the location of Abbot’s Lagoon on the Google map. Down to the right you can see Pt. Reyes Station next to the Highway 1 marker. Highway 1, BTW, follows the San Andreas fault through this area. The 1906 San Francisco Earthquake shot what is now the National Seashore over 20 feet northward. San Francisco is 30 miles to the south.
Another photo of Peggy’s great blue heron. This time he was back at work catching fish. I liked the slight hint of a reflection. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)
I was impressed with the red eye on this coot. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)
We crossed a small bridge and looked back up the Lagoon toward the parking lot.
There was a drift wood structure along the trail on the beach out near the ocean. It had been cleverly woven together with kelp.
Finally we arrived at the Pacific Ocean.

The North Pacific Coast Railroad had arrived in the area 146 years earlier in 1875 and let passengers off in a cow pasture to make their way to nearby Olema and dairy ranches out on the peninsula. The cow pasture soon added a hotel and the town of Pt. Reyes station was born. It’s a story told over and over in the West. The railroad arrives and a community springs up, making land barons/developers happy and rich. This time it was a dentist in San Francisco. The railroad was making its way north to retrieve redwoods that were being cut down to build the city. Many a giant redwood gave its life to the cause.

I first arrived at Pt. Reyes Station in the late 1960s and I’ve returned again and again. The town has become somewhat yuppified and more expensive since then due to its close vicinity to San Francisco, but it still retains much of its charm. The following photos reflect some of what makes it charming.

The Pt. Reyes Book Store is one of the best small, independent bookstores we have ever been in, and we’ve been in a lot. Peggy told me to go in and spend $200 for my birthday. Boy, does she know me…
The Bovine Bakery is on one side of the book store. The buttermilk scones are to die for! I never leave town without one, or two, or three, or four.
Feeling Horsey? A saddlery is on the other side of the bookstore.
If your horse is hungry, Toby’s Feed Barn is across the street.
But what feed barn do you know that also serves gourmet coffee and freshly baked, large chocolate chip cookies. Now, that’s what I call charm!
A walk behind the the bookstore building brought us to the Cowgirl Creamery, famous for its cheeses, and I might add, its grilled cheese sandwiches. I’ve never been a fan of grilled cheese, but one bite of its aged white cheddar on sourdough bread and I was hooked. Peggy and I were back for another one the next day, which we took out and ate at the Abbot’s Lagoon parking lot.
Our view from where we chowed down on our grilled cheese sandwiches in the Abbot’s Lagoon parking lot.
A bit of living history. Cheda’s Garage is the oldest contract Triple A garage in the nation.
This was the view inside Cheda’s Garage. Putting two and two together and thinking roadside pickup of wrecked cars, I couldn’t help but irreverently think “Roadkill.” Just kidding. Old Cheda must have been one heck of a hunter.
A photo of early Pt. Reyes Station…
The building today.
The mural on the front of the building capturing some of the activities and wildlife of the area.
Just around the corner we found a sign that made us smile. A No Parking Sign had been cleverly modified to become a No Barking sign. Several cars were lined up in the no parking zone. Not one had a barking dog. A law-abiding town, for sure.
I’ll conclude my Pt. Reyes series with a historic photo of the train that gave the town its name. Join me next Friday on my travel blog as I take you on a spring walk around our property.

MONDAY’s BLOG-A-BOOK POST from Its 4 AM and a Bear Is Standing on Top of Me: I decide that doing an inventory of the local skunk population is ever so much better than being conked on the head by a Little League hardball. But have you ever faced a skunk standing on its front legs with its tail pointed toward you— ready to spray?

Raging Winds, Fog, and Treacherous Rocks… 3 Reasons for the Pt. Reyes Lighthouse

“Point Reyes is the windiest place on the Pacific Coast and the second foggiest place on the North American continent. Weeks of fog, especially during the summer months, frequently reduce visibility to hundreds of feet. The Point Reyes Headlands, which jut 10 miles out to sea, pose a threat to each ship entering or leaving San Francisco Bay. The historic Point Reyes Lighthouse warned mariners of danger for more than a hundred years.” From the Pt. Reyes National Seashore website.

It was hard to imagine frequent winds of 60 MPH that have been clocked as high as 133 MPH and weeks on end of pea-soup fog the day we visited the Pt. Reyes Lighthouse in March.

For as much as I enjoy Pt. Reyes National Seashore, I studiously avoid it in the summer. One reason is the fog. That’s true for much of the Pacific Coast. The other is tourists, gazillions of them. Traffic slows to a turtle’s pace along Highway 1, campgrounds are full, and popular sites such as the lighthouse are packed. I have a limited sense of humor about any of the above, especially given that I can visit during the late fall, winter, and early spring when few tourists are out and about and days are often crystal clear. Or, if I am particularly lucky, a raging storm will send huge waves crashing ashore producing spectacular views. I love both.

It was mainly sunshine when Peggy and I visited the National Seashore in early March to celebrate my birthday. The lighthouse was closed due to Covid, but I have visited it before. This time, we admired it from above.

The Lighthouse was built in 1870 to help counter the frequent shipwrecks that took place in the area. A steam driven fog horn was used when the fog was too thick to see the light.

The lighthouse served its purpose for over 100 years, finally shutting down in 1975 when the US Coast Guard replaced it with an automated light found just below the historic lighthouse. Up until then it was tended by a lighthouse keeper whose responsibility was to keep the light burning. In addition to warning mariners off of the treacherous rocks, the lighthouse served as a navigational aid. Each lighthouse along the coast has a different frequency of light that ship pilots recognize. At Pt. Reyes, the light flashed once every five seconds.

Looking out to sea.
A historic view of the Pt. Reyes Lighthouse from the National Archives.

Peggy and I parked Quivera and followed the trail that led out to the lighthouse. Along the way, we found trees that showed the effects of the high winds that frequent the headlands.

Wind sculptured trees
I pictured children having a blast climbing over the gnarled limbs on the trees.
The Pt. Reyes headlands are a great place for whale watching when they are migrating south toward Mexico and then north toward the Arctic. We didn’t see any, but we were greeted by this large mural as we neared the lighthouse.
We found this interesting rock perched above the lighthouse.
And looking down below the lighthouse, we watched these waves crashing ashore among the rocks— which is where I will conclude my post for today.

NEXT FRIDAY’S TRAVEL BLOG: I’ll wrap up my Pt. Reyes series with a pleasant walk out to Abbot’s Lagoon and a visit to the colorful town of Pt. Reyes Station.

An Elk Loses Its Coat, a Coyote Digs Sushi, and a Ranch Is History… The Pt. Reyes Series

This bull elk that came down to see us as we hiked out the Tomales Pt. Trail looked quite elegant until we looked at his back. He was still shedding his winter coat and had yet to grow his summer fur. The deer herd that hangs out on our property goes through the same stage, looking frowzy for a couple of months. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)

Any trip to Pt. Reyes National Seashore should include a drive out to the historic Pierce Pt. Ranch and Tule Elk Reserve. The ranch will introduce you to an important piece of Pt. Reyes history. A hike out the Tomales Pt. Trail from the ranch will take you through some impressive scenery and likely give you a view of tule elk and other wildlife. Ever since the elk were reintroduced to the area in 1978, the herd has thrived. Our photos today start with our hike and end back at the ranch.

The Tomales Pt. Trail starts at the Pierce Pt. Ranch passing under tall Cypress trees planted originally by the ranchers as a wind break. Peggy provides perspective.
A few hundred yards brought us to a number of Calla lilies. Peggy and I wondered if a rancher’s wife had planted them to remind her of a home the family had left behind. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)
Of course, I had to take photos of the lilies as well.
We stopped to admire the scenery looking out toward Tomales Pt. and the Pacific Ocean.
Another view. The Bodega Headlands can be seen in the distance. If you’ve been to Bodega Bay, it’s possible you’ve driven out there. I like to go out on the headlands and look for whales passing by.
Far below us we saw a pair of coyotes working their way along the beach.
Peggy used her telephoto for a closer shot and, much to our surprise, the coyotes were digging in the sand. Whether they were after clams or crabs or some other seafood delicacy, I don’t know. But what was clear was that the coyotes had developed a tase for sushi!
Shortly afterwards we spotted elk on the ridge above us.
And they came down the hill to see us… (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)
Bringing their cows with them. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)
I caught this photo of one of the bulls checking us out. You can see that he is in that ‘awkward’ stage between losing his winter coat and growing his summer one.
This cow elk was also looking a bit bedraggled. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)
A final shot of the elk browsing. I liked the backdrop of the Pacific Ocean.
The Pierce Pt. Ranch ceased operation in 1973. Visitors are now invited to walk through the grounds and get a feel for what dairy ranching was like before modern dairy operation took over.
I liked the roofs.
I believe a park ranger lives in the ranch house now. I could live there!
The old dairy barn is humongous.
I took a peek inside. This is only half of the barn.
While Peggy stood at the barn door.
Since I took a photo of Peggy, she insisted on taking one of me. I took advantage of one of the downed Cypress trees. And that’s a wrap for today!

NEXT POST:

Monday’s Blog-A-Book from It’s 4 AM and a Bear Is Standing on Top of Me: I leave the Graveyard behind and journey off to the Pond where bullfrogs and catfish rule and pirates lurk.

Wednesday’s Blog-A-Book from my lead-up to joining the Peace Corps: I help corral a police car at Berkeley and the rallying cry of ‘Never trust anyone over the age of 30‘ is born.

The Charming Elephant Seals of Pt. Reyes National Seashore

Elephant seals have the look of an animal put together by a committee. It gives them a certain charm. We found this large fellow with his pronounced proboscis at Drake’s Beach. He’d come ashore at Pt. Reyes National Seashore looking for love.

Pt. Reyes National Seashore is located some 30 miles north of San Francisco. Peggy and I went there last week to celebrate my birthday. It’s been a go-to place for me since the 60s. In addition to spectacular scenery, great hikes, yummy food, and one of the best small bookstores I’ve ever been in, we were entertained by the wildlife: tule elk, a pair of sushi eating coyotes, and elephant seals (plus some cows).  Today, I want to do a teaser on our trip by featuring the elephant seals. I’ll get back to the rest after I finish my Harris Beach series. 

Elephant seals are amazing creatures that spend up to 80% of their lives at sea— 90 % of it underwater!  If that doesn’t seem remarkable enough, consider this: their normal dives for food range between 1000 and 2000 feet deep (305 to 610 meters). They can dive for up to an hour and a half before returning to the surface for three to five minutes of breathing. Semi-annual feeding binges take the males on a 13,000-mile roundtrip journey to the Aleutian Islands and females on a 11,000-mile roundtrip into the North Pacific.

They were absent from Pt. Reyes for 150 years. In fact, they were close to absent forever. Like whales, they came close to being hunted to extinction for their oil. Processing the blubber from one bull can produce up to 25 gallons. They were saved because the Mexico and the US banned hunting them in the 1920s. Gradually, they have returned to their old breeding grounds. When I first started visiting Pt. Reyes in the 60s, they were unheard of in the area. Today there are over 3000 that return annually to breed.

The Park Service had set up a barrier to separate the seals from the people who had come to admire them at Drake’s Beach. Those closest to the barrier were bulls. You can tell by their size and uniquely shaped noses. One had crossed the barrier and was worrying the rangers. “He’s escaping from the other bulls,” a ranger explained. Maybe.

This large bull had crossed through the barriers at Drakes Beach and was pointed toward the snack bar. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)

A little girl next to me exclaimed, “I think he is heading to the snack bar to get fish sticks!”

“I’d bet on ice cream,” I responded. “Look at how big he is.” The girl looked at me dubiously. “Fish sticks” she insisted.

Peggy and I spent an hour watching these wonderful creations of nature who are so competent at sea and ungainly on land. They move like an inchworm, using their dorsal flippers to pull their front half forward and then using their rear flippers to push the rest of their body along like a rolling wave. Imagine moving several tons of fat. The ones we watched would make two or three of these moves and then collapse to rest.

Given their trunk-like noses and appealing eyes, Peggy and I were particularly attracted to the looks on their faces.

Is this fellow being coy?
Check out the big brown eyes! The size of the eyes helps the elephant seal see in the dark depths of the ocean. The whiskers apparently help as well in the search for food. He had lifted his head to check us out. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)
And then returned to his resting position. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)
A side glance. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)
A bit shy, perhaps. Maybe he thought that the log was hiding him.
Size matters. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)
This was interesting. The skin of the elephant seals is sensitive to the sun. They cope by throwing sand over their bodies with their flippers, as seen in this photo.
Sometimes a little stretch really feels good! (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)
Peggy caught some of the girls sunbathing out near the ocean…
Drake’s Bay was named for Sir Francis Drake who reputedly visited the area in 1759. There’s another bull on the left— looking sluggish.
I’ll conclude today with this elephant seal that was making its way back toward the ocean. I decided he was waving goodbye with his flipper. I’ll return to the tide pools of Harris Beach in Oregon next week. Are you aware that groups of sea anemones go to war with each other?

NEXT POSTS:

Monday’s Blog-a-Book… “It’s 4 AM and a Bear Is Standing on Top of Me”: I move outside in the summer to enjoy nature but hire the family’s dogs and cats to protect me from the ghosts.

Wednesday’s Blog-a-Book… “The Bush Devil Ate Sam”: Held at gunpoint, I consider the odds of running over the gunman versus getting shot.

National Parks of the Southwest… From Our 2021 Calendars

Grand Canyon

It’s Christmas Eve, a perfect time for more photos from the two calendars that Peggy and I put together for our family that feature National Parks of the Southwestern US. It’s hard to imagine a finer gift to the people of America and other countries than these special places that have been set aside in the US and around the world for now and future generations. Unless, of course, we are talking about world peace. (Grin.) As I mentioned previously, these are parks that Peggy and I visited in 2019/20. Some before Covid and some during the pandemic. In the latter we dutifully social distanced and wore our face masks whenever around people. If you are a regular reader of my blog, you may have seen these photos before. Enjoy. Be safe and Happy Holidays.

Arches National Park
Canyon de Chelly
Grand Canyon
Monument Valley
And finally, Arches National Park

NEXT POSTS:

Tuesday: Welcome to the first day of the Sierra Trek! Those first 24 hours were a doozy! You won’t want to miss this chapter from my book! I still wake up in the middle of the night in a cold sweat. 🙂

On Wednesday and Thursday, I’ll finish up our calendar photos.