Point Reyes National Seashore

I meant to get this post out sooner than what I did. Work had been much busier than expected since returning to California in January. So free time after work was limited but I still have been going to the Sunday “Shut Up and Write” sessions. For the time being though I’m currently on a much needed vacation home in Northern New York. So while I’m home, I hope to catch up on a number of posts I’ve written but haven’t yet shared on the blog.

Anyways, the next part of my adventure along California’s coast was in Point Reyes National Seashore where I stayed at a hostel located within the National Park and hiked a couple of shorter trails: the San Andres Fault Loop and part of the Coastal Trail.

The Point Reyes National Seashore was established in 1962 by Congress and is located on the Point Reyes Peninsula. The Peninsula is separated from mainland California by a linear valley, which happens to be on the San Andres Fault. The Fault is where the Pacific and North American Continental Plates meet; geology talk time- this means that the Pacific Plate is slowly sliding underneath the North American Continental Plate and when things don’t go smoothly with this geological process, earthquakes happen. Today about 1/3 of the National Seashore is a protected wilderness, while another third is preserved as a pastoral zone for dairy and beef farms that date back to the 1880’s. The National Seashore also offers numerous outdoor activities and places to see for visitors; there’s roughly 150 miles of trails within the boundaries of the Seashore.

Visitor Center

The drive from Sacramento to Point Reyes is roughly two hours. Inverness, which is the place I wrote about in the last post, is about a 15 minute drive from the National Seashore’s main entrance….longer if you’re planning on driving deeper in the Seashore. The car ride is very simple. The route goes through Point Reyes Station- a quaint looking town but I didn’t stop. I drove to the Point Reyes Visitor Center to get a map and to buy some souvenirs. I did walk on a short trail located near the visitor center: the San Andres Fault Loop (roughly 0.6 miles long). The trail is along a mostly even terrain that winds through a field and a forested area, which must be a popular hangout for the local deer population.

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The local welcoming committee to the Point Reyes National Seashore

Along the trail there are a number of signs giving both geological history of the region and the history of the Great 1906 Earthquake. By the way, it seems any time I go to something related in anyway to history here in California there’s always some connection to the 1906 Earthquake or the Gold Rush….there always is a connection….no matter what.

San Andres Fault Loop
View of the trail of the San Andres Fault Loop.

Blue Markers

 

San Andres Fault Loop Trail
The fence was split in two when the 1906 earthquake hit. The blue markers also indicate the active fault line.

Within the National Seashore, I stayed at the Point Reyes Hostel located in the heart of the Seashore. It’s very secluded yet homey with a large kitchen, porch area and a cozy living room. The hostel is at the site of the historic ranch, Rancho de Laguna, which was established at the current site in 1866. Eventually, the ranch buildings were purchased by the Park Service in 1971 and instead of demolishing the buildings, they were renovated and the hostel was opened up in 1972.

Decorations at the Hostel
Decor outside of the hostel.

The ladies eight bed dormitory was spacious, as was the shared bathroom within the main hostel house. There’s also a number of newer looking buildings that are apparently more dorm rooms for larger groups aiming to stay within the Seashore. When I’m traveling around I like to stay at hostels because it’s way cheaper and it gives the opportunity to meet cool people. While at the Point Reyes Hostel I didn’t really talk to anyone like I had at previous hostel stays in San Francisco and San Luis Obispo. Since the Point Reyes Hostel is secluded and in a forest, there is no Wi-fi and there’s definitely no cell service. I was able to get one bar at the end of the road on both of my cellphones (work phone is AT&T and my personal cell is Straight Talk in case you’re interested). I spent the night at the hostel writing…you guessed it…blog posts and reading on my tablet, A Company of Liars by Karen Maitland is what I had been reading at the time. Side note- it’s a very interesting book but literally the last chapter isn’t the best. I looked up the book after finishing to see if others were as annoyed as I was and it seems like the general consensus was that the ending isn’t the best. So readers beware.

In the morning, I decided to hike the Coastal Trail, which the trail head is just down the road from the hostel. The morning was colder than I expected- probably in the 40’s. I didn’t see a lot of wildlife on the trail other than groups of partridges. On that note, I’ve never seen groups of partridges- they’re funny little posse and they all flap off together when you get too close. Closer towards the coast and the beach, you could hear the crash of the ocean waves.

There were no other people on the trail, which can kind of be unnerving in a large national forest especially since there’s signs telling you to watch out for mountain lions, not to hike alone, and to flee to higher ground in the case of an earthquake/tsunami death combo. On another side note, what the wrong with California?!?!?!?!?! We don’t have these kind of warnings at the beginning of trail heads in New York. This all just continues to solidify my thoughts that California is a hostel environment….

Now back to the coastal trail….

When I emerged from a marshy area with a lot of tree coverage, there were sloping hills where grazing elk could be seen. Let’s be honest, they probably saw me first and were probably wondering what the hell I was and why I was up so early. I assume I must have been a spectacle for the elk to watch since I was flaying my arms around trying to determine if my phones were going to pick up a signal or not.

Elk

The trail curved through the hills without any real incline. To be honest most of the trail seemed to be an even grade without any real noticeable inclines/ downhill sections and then finally the path emerged onto rolling hills towards the beach.

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There was, unsurprisingly, no one at the beach. So I was able to hang out on the beach by myself and take lots of photographs. Based on the trail signs, the Coastal Trail continues past the first beach stop to another beach area. Instead of continuing on the trail, I decided to head back to the hostel to get ready to leave for the day to travel the rest of the way to Fort Ross, which would be another 1 ½ drive up the coast.

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On the walk back through the woods, I was still keeping an eyes and ears alert for any unusual rustling sounds. Call me a Nervous Nancy but there’s a crazy need to be alert in the California woods especially when most trail head signs warn of tsunamis and mountain lions. It also didn’t help that the local, patrolling, partridge posses are noisy in the wee hours of the morning. So while I was walking along the trail observing my surroundings, minding my own business, I looked down the trail and saw that it was clear, I looked down at my feet and then I looked back up and saw some four-legged canine creature ahead of me on the trail.

Coyote

Well let me tell you. I freaked out. I think it was a coyote.

It looked at me.

I looked at it.

I mentally freaked out.

It remained calm.

I yelled a little to scare it off.

It stayed on the trail staring at me- probably wondering what the hell was happening.

Actually, wait. It was probably judging me for hiking alone on the trail in the early hours of the morning. Obviously that’s what it was doing- judging the lone human in the woods.

I decided my best move in our standoff was to walk towards the coyote while making some obnoxious noises. It must have been my menacing look and walk that caused the coyote to saunter off the trail….LOL. Who are we kidding, probably not. But at that moment I realized that I probably needed an adult supervising my outdoor adventures, especially in California. For the rest of the walk back to the hostel, I only saw a few cute bunnies and luckily no more sightings of larger mammals.

And that was my adventure in Point Reyes National Seashore.

Thanks for reading! Next up, Fort Ross.

*See below for applications to be a “supervising adult for Courtney’s Adventures.”*

 

Further Information:

All of the information about Point Reyes came from a pamphlet I picked up at the Point Reyes National Seashore Museum but more information about the National Seashore can be found here:

https://www.nps.gov/pore/index.htm

http://news.aag.org/2016/02/point-reyes-national-seashore-a-brief-history-of-a-working-landscape/

https://pubs.usgs.gov/of/2005/1127/chapter9.pdf

http://www.norcalhostels.org/reyes/history

 

*Sadly, there’s no actual applications to be a supervising adult in my adventures, I just need to be better prepared for the unexpected. Obviously, my years as a girl scout didn’t prepare me for coyotes in the woods at 8 am. But if you’ve had moments in your own adventures, where you questioned your life choices, please feel free to share!

Donner Pass and the Sierra Nevada Mountains

Last week I had an opportunity to travel to Donner Lake, which is located in the mountains of Tahoe National Forest. Along the way, I stopped at a couple of vista point “exits” off of Interstate 80 and took a number of photos of the mountains.

Selfie Time
This view is from one of the vista points located along Interstate 80.
Soda Springs General Store
I stopped in Soda Springs for lunch. Soda Springs originally was called Summit Valley; the name change occurred in 1875. It is located 3 miles west of Donner Pass. The elevation here is 6,768 ft.

Lunch Time

The Tahoe National Forest was originally established in 1899 and named Tahoe Forest Reserve. In 1905, the name was changed to Tahoe National Forest and controlled of the National Forests was changed from the Department of the Interior to the Department of Agriculture’s Forest Service; President Theodore Roosevelt was in office during this time. His presidency consisted of pushes to conserve our Nation’s natural resources. President Roosevelt, actually established the US Forest Service, signed into law the creation of five National Parks, and signed the 1906 Antiquities Act, which created 18 National Monuments.

Sierra Mountain Range
This is a view of some of the mountains along Interstate 80. This is the view from on of the vista points along the interstate. Maps are unclear but I think this view is looking at the general location of the Donner Pass. The elevation of Donner Pass is 7,056 ft.

View from Vista Point 1

The Tahoe National Forest includes parts of the Sierra Nevada mountain range. The mountain range has been created by a geological activity called plate tectonics (movement of plates that make up the crust of the Earth). In particular the creation of these mountains was caused by a “subduction zone,” where one plate moves beneath another plate and as that happens magma is created from movement, that slowly cools down and the magma rocks created at the zone build up to create these mountains. It takes a very long time. The plates that helped make the Sierra Nevada Range are the Pacific and North America plates. This geological activity began somewhere between 400-130 million years ago but the range as we know it, really was created until between 20-5 million years ago. That means the Sierra Nevada Range would have been around when dinosaurs walked around North America. Parts of the mountains have also been created by the weight and movement of glaciers during the ice ages; “U” shaped valleys are a geologic indicator of this. I just want to give a shout out and thank you, to my basic 9th grade Earth Studies class, where I learned geology….oh, and I guess those geology courses I took at SUNY Potsdam.

Vista Point No. 2
This marker was at the second vista point I stopped at along Interstate 80.
Mountains
This is the view from that second vista point! It was really pretty!

So that’s some real brief history of the Tahoe National Forest and it’s geology. There’s a lot more that could be added but let’s keep it simple and move on to the juicier stuff.

Next up. Cannibalism!

Sooooo, Donner Lake and Donner Pass are named after a very, very, very ill-fated pioneer wagon train that tried to cross through Donner Pass in 1847. Let’s back up a little bit before 1847, to 1846…not that far back in comparison to 1847… when nine families left Springfield, Illinois in April of 1846 to head west to California. The families were organized by James Reed and George Donner was the captain of the wagon train. The nine families met up with other families headed west creating a large wagon train. Everyone stopped at Fort Bridger, which was located in modern day Wyoming, to resupply and get ready for the long haul to California.

While at Fort Bridger, 87 members of the much larger wagon train decided to set off on their own to travel a new route through the Sierra Nevada Mountains. This group is known as the Donner Party and consisted of the group first organized by James Reed and headed by George Donner. Reed had learned of a new route through a pass in the Sierra Mountains near a lake (known today at Donner Lake). With that information, Reed assumed that if the Party took this route, they would arrive in California sooner.

James Reed got some real bad information.

The Donner Party arrived at the summit of the mountains at the lake around October 28, 1846. By that time, there was already 6 feet of snow and this stopped the Donner Party dead in their tracks. The different families set up camp around the lake using their wagons and other materials for shelter. The families technically were trapped by the snow- they couldn’t go forward or even back the way they had come by late fall. In the middle of December a group of 15 people left the encampment to travel the rest of the way to California in the hopes of getting help. Only 7 people survived the trek into California and reached Sutter’s Fort, where they were able to get much needed help. During that time the Donner Party went through most of their supplies and livestock. People starved and froze to death, and some of the survivors turned to cannibalism to survive. There was a total of four rescue parties that went to Donner Lake from Sutter’s Fort. Of the original 87 pioneers that got stuck at Donner Lake, only 48 survived and made it to California.

Donner Lake, Looking West
Donner Lake is located in the Truckee, California. Donner Pass is located about 9 miles in this general direction.

Donner Lake, Looking East

This information sign is located at that gravel “parking lot”/extended shoulder.
This is a view of mountains and Interstate 80 from a “parking lot” right next to the Donner Memorial State Park.
Donner Party Memorial Statue
At the Memorial State Park, there is a statue for the Donner Party. The State Park actually preserves the site of where the Donner Party camped. It’s located towards the eastern point of Donner Lake.

Obviously Donner Lake and Donner Pass are named after the Donner Party. Donner Pass through the Sierra Nevada Mountains has been used in a series of different transportation routes starting with the California Trail (wagon trail). Eventually the pass was incorporated into the route of the Central Pacific Railroad for the First Transcontinental Railroad. More recently, in the age of the automobile, there has been a route through the pass for U. S. Route 40 (the Lincoln Highway), which was the first road across the United States and then the pass was indirectly used by Interstate 80. Interstate 80 was the route I took to get to Donner Lake.

So there you have it! A very brief history on the Sierra Nevada Mountains and the Donner Party.

If you have any questions or comments, let me know in the section below.

Thanks for reading!

Sources and Further Information:

http://www.eyewitnesstohistory.com/donnerparty.htm This website has a detailed narrative about the Donner Party and includes some diary entries from a member of the Donner Party.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Donner_Pass Wikipedia has a number of great visuals to check out about Donner Pass.

Soda Springs General Store: http://sodaspringsgeneralstore.com/

Tahoe National Forest:

https://www.fs.usda.gov/tahoe

http://www.tahoefund.org/about-tahoe/tahoes-environmental-history/

https://www.nationalforests.org/our-forests/find-a-forest/tahoe

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tahoe_National_Forest

Tahoe National Forest History: http://www.foresthistory.org/ASPNET/Publications/region/5/tahoe/contents.htm

Sierra Nevada

https://geomaps.wr.usgs.gov/parks/province/pacifmt.html

http://www.ucmp.berkeley.edu/science/profiles/erwin_0609geology.php