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This space is devoted to sharing information about Point Reyes and the surrounding areas. Find information about the local plants, wildlife, the hiking/biking trails around Point Reyes National Seashore, tales of our recent outings and explorations, wildlife encounters & sightings, and other exciting happenings in the natural world.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Drakes Estero Trail to Sunset Beach Hike

Details: about 9 miles round trip, approximately 4 hrs with photo stops and a lunch break. This trail is a hiking and biking trail. Note: As of 1/26/11 impassable on a bike after 2 miles, read on for details.

Getting out of the car at the Estero Trail parking lot, was enough movement to necessitate removing a layer. The sun was shining and the bright blue skies were filled with wispy and playful clouds stretching the horizon.
All rights reserved. Photo by Tressa Bronner 2011.
The first mile or so meanders through a thick pine stand. We welcomed the shady start to our hike as we were overdressed for this beautiful day. Amongst the trees we found several groupings of mushrooms poking out from beneath the duff. Once out of the pine stand, we reach the bridge across Home Bay. I have often stood on the bridge and watched countless leopard sharks swim beneath, in and out of the shallow feeding area past the bridge. But not today, the tide was out and only a small channel of water remained in the labyrinth that was the exposed mud of Home Bay. I stood and looked into the water reflecting the clouds and marveled, but not at sharks.
Looking Southwest into Home Bay from Bridge
All rights reserved. Photo By Tressa Bronner 2011
After the bridge, the trail proceeds uphill with views overlooking the estero. Bring your binoculars along as you are often within range to check out shorebirds and rafts of migrating water fowl. After about 3/4 of a mile, the trail got a bit tricky. Cows graze in the area and at some points it seems as if you are just following a cow trail, not an actual park trail. As we descended a shaded hill the wet mud had been trudged by cows and all that remained was a 4 inch wide bridge that was solid enough to support the weight of an adult. This bridge often shifted, as it was the residual non-path of the cows, so hopping back and forth between bridges was necessary to avoid the muddy hoof holes filled with puddles. This left us wondering how one would pass when the bridges were trampled. The trail continued in this way for quite some time: dry sections, muddy sections, followed by muddy almost impassable sections that left me wishing for rain boots but wondering about the bike tire tread tracks I saw, followed by dry sections. I enjoyed the challenge, but this trail is not suitable for all abilities nor bikes at this not-quite-dry time.
Lone Eucalyptus.
All rights reserved. Photo by Tressa Bronner 2011.
We decided on the trail out to Sunset Beach, the shorter of the two options, since we had a time restraint.  If you stay on the main path, you can continue on to Drakes Head and beyond.  The trail out to the beach has lovely views and a couple of fresh water ponds. We stopped at the bench for a picnic in the sunshine. There is also a trail that continues on, but since we weren't there for the sunset, we opted not to get out feet wet. Walking past the large sandbar we stopped to watch the harbor seals catching rays on their temporary beach. About thirty seals were gathered, stretched out, enjoying the balmy weather.

Turning around we received flyovers by two flocks of American White Pelicans that were roaming the estero. At one point they circled around us three times before finally coming in for a landing on a fresh water pond. What a treat to hear their wing flaps and watch their splash landing into the pond.
Estero Trail Overlook
All rights reserved. Photo by Tressa Bronner 2011.
All in all, a lovely day, gorgeous scenery, solitude, just a bit sloshy at points. This bike/hike will be much easier in summer and fall once dried out. I would say kayaking is the best way to explore the estero during these lovely winter days, as long as you check the tide first. Mud in your boots, while not fun, is much easier than a mud flat to cross in your kayak. Get out there soon! The estero closes annually to kayakers for harbor seal protection on March 1st until June 30th.

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