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A sunny March visit to Point Reyes National Seashore.

A sunny March visit to Point Reyes National Seashore

In that window in time between the rains of winter and the clammy fogs of summer, Point Reyes National Seashore north of San Francisco can be gloriously clear: a 30-mile-long peninsula of emerald hills jutting into frothy blue ocean.

Successive rough winters have battered the roads and trails (Limantour Road into the heart of the seashore is still closed), but by March trails begin to dry and early wildflowers peep through the high grass. There's a new interpretive center to visit, and you might head to the lighthouse to look for gray whales, on their northward migration now through early June.

The Bear Valley Visitor Center, just opened, looks at home in its meadow setting at the Bear Valley headquarters, off Highway 1 just a few hundred yards north of Olema. Tall and cedar-sided, the museum resembles the huge barns that still dot the peninsula, long a hub of dairy and beef cattle ranching. It's advisable to stop here first; the displays can help you plan your day at the park better.

Inside, displays of some 250 native plants and 125 species of wildlife are grouped as you would find them in the park, by community: forest, grassland, and seashore. Accompanying text tells you which trails have good spots to watch for specific animals or plants. You'll find a well-stocked bookstore and an information desk; check here for weather and trail conditions thoughout the park. The center is open 9 to 5 weekdays, 8 to 5 weekends.

Starting at the headquarters area, a 15-station Eartheuake Trail leads you to the Earthquake Trail leads you to the Miwok Indian village, and a Morgan horse stable and corral.

A 140-mile network of trails crisscrosses the park. Several lead out of Bear Valley, but they're heavily used; the 4.3-mile Bear Valley Trail out to Arch Rock is the most popular and crowded trail in the seashore. You might try the 1.8-mile hike up the Sky Trail to 1,407-foot Mount Wittenberg, the highest point in the Inverness Ridge. The trail rises steeply, but views along the way are rewarding.

One of the best land points for watching migrating gray whales is the Point Reyes lighthouse (closed Tuesdays and Wednesdays), which sits on the peninsula's westernmost tip. There's a small information station at bluff top, then some 300 steps down to the lighthouse (equal to descending the staircase of a 30-story building). Bring binoculars. The fog here is reportedly heavier than at any other U.S. lighthouse--the bass-voiced fog signal booms continuously, and the point is engulfed in mist nearly a third of the time. For information on the lighthouse, call (415) 669-1534.

Point Reyes National Seashore headquarters lies some 35 miles north of San Francisco off State Highway 1. Before setting out, call (415) 663-1092 for weather, road, and camping information. Dress warmly; the prevailing northwesterlies can be bone-chilling.

For information on Point Reyes' six bed-and-breakfast inns, call (415) 663-1420 or see the April 1983 Sunset, page 78.

Photo: Barn-like visitor center (above) at Point Reyes uses high ceiling to hang banners, tall windows to light displays (below)

Photo: Balconied lighthouse, popular with picnickers on a sunny day, is also a noted whale-watching perch. It's at the base of a 300-step staircase with benches for catching your breath along the way
COPYRIGHT 1984 Sunset Publishing Corp.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1984 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Publication:Sunset
Date:Mar 1, 1984
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