California Road Trip: Point Reyes Elephant Seals!


When we last left off, Jon was trying to convince me that I didn’t really want to go see the Elephant Seals – that they were just like Sea Lions.  I told him I was going anyway…

Once you get off the bus at Elephant Seal Beach it is only an eighth of a mile to the overlook.  When we were there, the beach was filled with female Elephant Seals and some babies, but apparently the males hadn’t arrived yet to join the party.  Oh well, the females were still really cool to see.  There is a ranger at the overlook to answer questions and a high powered telescope set up, so you can get a close up view of the beach.  The Elephant Seals here are Northern Elephant Seals – the males can grow between 14 and 16 feet long, and weigh up to 5400 pounds!  The females are up to 10 feet long and 2000 pounds.  As for life expectancy, females live an average of 22 years, and start breeding at 3 or 4 years of age.  The average life span of a male Elephant Seals is about 14 years.  They were really neat to see – even though the distance on the pictures doesn’t do them justice.  I’m so glad we went to see them!

Elephant Seals at Point Reyes - They Are Much Bigger Than They Look Here!

Elephant Seals at Point Reyes – They Are Much Bigger Than They Look Here!

Female Elephant Seals at Point Reyes

Female Elephant Seals at Point Reyes

Also at the same stop is the lifesaving station.  Had we not been so hungry, I would have gone for a visit, because it looked really interesting.  The United States Life Saving Service (USLSS) – the predecessor to the modern U.S. Coast Guard – was founded in 1871, and first established a presence at Point Reyes in 1890.

OverlookTrail

The Trail Coming Back from the Overlook

To date, more than 50 ships have foundered on the rocks near Point Reyes; the lifesaving station ensured that those mariners had a fairly good chance at survival.  And they didn’t just rescue boats; the surfmen also saved two survivors of a DC 3 that crashed (sadly the other five aboard were swept away and drowned before rescuers arrived).  Even though they clearly performed a valuable service, the work wasn’t without risks – evidenced by the small cemetery that contains the graves of three surfmen who died in the 1890s.  At least two more men died while serving at the lifesaving station; two surfmen in 1960 radioed the station to say that they were returning after assisting a disabled vessel, but they never arrived.  Their boat was found the next day on the beach with the propellers still turning; their bodies were never found.

The View From Elephant Seal Overlook - the Historic Life Saving Station is in the Distance

The View From Elephant Seal Overlook – the Historic Life Saving Station is in the Distance

After visiting Elephant Seal Beach and seeing the Life Saving Station, we got back on the shuttle bus for a trip back to the Drakes’ Beach Visitor’s Center.  The driver slowed down for a California Blacktail Deer and pointed it out to us.  To recap, all in all, we spotted California Quail, Great Blue Heron, Great Egret, California Blacktail Deer, Tule Elk, Bobcat and Elephant Seal.  Not to mention the ever elusive cows, chickens, seagulls and crows.  It was a fantastic visit.

To Give You Some Perspective - From Left: Elephant Seal (Male), California Sea Lion (Male), California Sea Lion (Female), Harbor Seal (Female)

To Give You Some Perspective – From Left: Elephant Seal (Male), California Sea Lion (Male), California Sea Lion (Female), Harbor Seal (Female)

Once we departed from the National Seashore, we stopped for a while at Point Reyes Station, a small town (population 350) close by.  We wandered around the shops and got some coffee and tea pick-me-ups.  We also found a shop called Zuma that sold handmade products from artisans around the world – they had baskets, scarves and shawls, and jewelry.  Jon and I love hand woven baskets, and we found several that we liked there.  We came home with a Cambodian basket and a Nkuringo Wishing basket from Uganda.  And I got a carved and polished wooden heart trinket too.

By this time, even though I had a snack after leaving the park, I was starving.  We decided to check out the Station House Café, so we popped in right as they were opening at 5 pm.  We were seated right away, and we proceeded to have one of the best meals of our trip!  I had the braised short ribs with Rainbow chard, creamy polenta and local mushrooms.  I paired it with a 2011 Long Meadow Ranch Napa Valley Sauvignon Blanc.  My meal was absolutely delicious!  Jon had the Blackened Yellowtail with turnip puree, leeks and cranberries.  Yum!  Our entrees also came with popovers, funnel shaped breads with an egg flavor inside.  The service was great – the food came really quickly, and we enjoyed our visit thoroughly.

My Braised Short Ribs at the Station House Café

My Braised Short Ribs at the Station House Café

After dinner, we headed back to Petaluma and spent the rest of the evening relaxing.  Our day at Point Reyes was an amazing day.

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