Friday, February 6, 2009
Salt Point State Park
A couple of weeks ago, I was in dire need of some nature. So I got on Highway 1 and drove the hour and a half up to Salt Point State Park.
Salt Point is on CA Highway 1, 15 or 20 miles north of Jenner, and it's a pretty amazing place. The drive there is a bit nerve-wracking -- lots of intense curves, with drops of hundreds of feet down to some very violent looking waves. I've driven up there twice now, and twice I've seen nasty accidents along the way. The first time, I actually watched a motorcyclist take a curve too fast and crash into the stone wall on the inside of the curve (damn lucky he didn't go over the cliff's edge). His bike was totalled like I've never seen before, bleeding green and black goo all over the road, but the biker somehow walked away from the crash unscathed. And then this last time, I drove past a minivan literally on its side in the road, also from what looked like a curve taken too fast.
Also, they're not kidding with the cow crossing signs. This is not the best picture, but that cow is literally just a couple feet from the road (with a huge drop off to its left, btw). And there were several actually in the road on my most recent drive up. And let me tell you, they're NOT afraid of you -- they just lollygag along until they damn well feel like getting out of your way!
Salt Point is home to a massive kelp forest, and is designated as an underwater park. From the surface, this doesn't look like much -- mostly the water just seems to have an inordinate amount of seaweed floating around the surface. But that's actually the top of the kelp strands, which grow all the way to the surface of the water. If you're lucky, you might see some sea otters floating around in the kelp, chowing down on the abundant shellfish. Apparently, from underwater, the view is quite amazing, and you'll often see SCUBA divers there. Also, folks diving for abalone, which is considered to be a delicacy by many. (I've never had it -- California law places strict limits on how much you can forage and I believe even prohibits the selling of it.)
Even without exploring underwater, though, you can enjoy the benefits of this amazing underwater park. Tide-pooling is fantastic here -- with candy-colored anenomes, starfish, tons of mussels, etc. I usually try to bring a tide chart with me, so I can be sure to hit one of the mostly-deserted pocket coves around low tide. Fisk Mill Cove is a personal favorite, but there are many unnamed coves, as well. You often have to pick your way down a very steep path to get to the beaches, but I think it's worth it. I could literally spend hours hopping from rock to rock, checking out what the receding tide has uncovered.
As for hiking, well the trails are poorly marked, to say the least, and definitely not well-maintained. You do a lot of skidding down hills slick with fallen pine needles and leaping over damp gullies like a not-so-graceful mountain goat. So, if you're a nervous hiker or prone to twisted ankles, you might want to skip the hiking. If not, just keep the ocean on your left on the way out, right on the way back (or vice versa), and you'll be fine. You're never far from the water on any of the many trails that wind through the woods, and anyway, you won't want to be out of sight of the spectacular coastline here for long.
The rocks on the cliffs bear more than a passing resemblance to swiss cheese. This is called Tufa Rock, and Wikipedia tells me that it's created by deposits of calcium carbonate from water with high calcium content. I've seen similar rock down along the coast near Santa Cruz, but not on most of the Sonoma and Marin coastline.
There was also a time when this was a fairly active shipping hub (mostly lumber, I think). Hiking along the tops of the cliffs near Fisk Mill Cove, you can see old, rusted metal hooks protruding from the rock, which boats would use to tie up when they got near the shore. Here's an old survey marker from the tops of the cliffs, as well:
Also, at one point in the distant past, there were farmers that lived on this land. There's still an old abandoned shed (perhaps an outhouse?) at one point along the trail, and tiny little graveyard, perched on a bluff above the ocean. Not a one of my pictures of the gravestones turned out, but here's the view from the burial area:
Not a bad place to spend eternity, eh?
On this visit, I also saw a lot of fishermen, taking advantage of the low tide to walk out far onto the rocks and get a prime fishing spot. I did a little bit of wandering about out there, but I have to say, it felt really dangerous. The surf is definitely not mild in this area, and where the fishermen in the picture are standing is often underwater. Even at low tide, they were being splashed with the spray of waves hitting the rocks, hard. And if a particularly big wave sweeps you off the rocks around here, you're pretty well screwed. There's a reason folks don't swim in this area, y'know?
I don't know what Salt Point is like in the summer, but this time of year it was mostly abandoned. I saw only one other hiker in the several hours I was there. Oh, and if you time it so you're driving home around sunset, the sunset view of the beach near Jenner is spectacular: